LITTLE ROCK — The author of a book about immigration reform called on Arkansas to pass legislation that would extend in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, saying they have done nothing wrong.
William A. Schwab spoke in Little Rock about the DREAM Act, a federal bill that would have offered citizenship to some young illegal immigrants. The legislation narrowly passed the U.S. House before being defeated in the Senate in 2010.
"Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act ... so states have taken over," said Schwab, a professor of sociology and the former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Arkansas. "Twelve states have passed their own DREAM Acts, which provide in-state tuition for undocumented youth. And in a few states, they actually provide state-supported financial aid."
In Arkansas, state Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, is proposing an extension of cheaper in-state tuition rates to some students who came to the U.S. illegally as children. Out-of-state tuition rates in Arkansas are about twice as much as in-state rates.
A Senate education panel could vote on the measure as early as this week. It would grant in-state tuition rates to anyone who has attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has an Arkansas high school diploma or general education diploma. Supporters say it would more fairly treat students who came to the U.S. illegally as children and who currently have to pay higher out-of-state rates despite having grown up and gone to school in Arkansas.
Elliott could face challenges to pass such a measure in the newly Republican-controlled Legislature. She has introduced other in-state tuition measures twice before but to no avail. A similar bill failed in 2005 even though it had bipartisan support, including the backing of then-Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican. Elliott pushed forward with a similar proposal again in 2009, but lacked the support of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, who had said the measure could violate federal law.
Still, her measure comes as some attitudes appear to be shifting on immigration. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington is crafting a sweeping immigration bill. And in Arkansas, Elliott has garnered support from some Republicans, including Sen. Johnny Key, who co-sponsored the bill.
"With the change in the political landscape because of the last election... I think this is the best opportunity we have as a society in a generation to come up with solutions," Schwab said. His book, "Right to DREAM: Immigration Reform and America's Future," advocates for the DREAM Act.