Thousands of “Dreamers” across Virginia woke up to incredible news last week when Attorney General Mark Herring announced that undocumented students who were brought to the United States as children qualified for in-state tuition at Virginia’s colleges and universities. Specifically, Herring’s decision extends in-state tuition to nearly 8,000 students who are legally eligible through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. This decision is a godsend for those students, who are forced to work overtime to pay inflated out-of-state tuition rates because House Republicans continue to stall on comprehensive immigration reform.
There are students like this all across our country who were brought to the U.S. as children by their parents, worked to succeed in high school while often juggling demands on their time far more than the average student, and are doing their best at college to become valuable, contributing members of our society. Undocumented immigrants have had legal access to public colleges and universities since the 1980’s, but federal law limits states from offering these same students in-state tuition to public post-secondary institutions.
Sadly, House Republicans would rather sit on their hands and watch as children are uprooted from the only home they’ve known and deported than act on a comprehensive immigration reform package that secures our borders, protects workers, unites families, and provides a roadmap to earned citizenship. The U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform package by an overwhelming margin nearly a year ago and sent it to GOP leaders in the House. In the 312 days since, House Republicans have refused to bring H.R. 15, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, up for a vote, even though it has majority support needed to pass, preferring to leave our broken, outdated laws in place.
The bipartisan Senate plan creates a roadmap to earned citizenship for undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. before 2012 provided they pass a background check, have not been convicted of a serious crime, and pay assessed tax liability and appropriate fees. The bill includes the DREAM Act to provide an expedited path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country before the age of 16 and who have completed high school or obtained a GED in the U.S. The legislation would also increase the number of visas available to immigrants employed in high-skill and agricultural sectors, while strengthening penalties for employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers or violate workplace rights.
Herring’s actions have changed the lives of thousands of students and their families in Virginia. He’s also highlighted our need for comprehensive federal action to finally address our broken immigration system. I am hopeful that Republican leadership will allow comprehensive immigration reform legislation to receive an up or down vote in the House. Rest assured that I strongly support comprehensive immigration reform and will do all I can to help pass such legislation this year.