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Proposal To Give DACA Recipients In-state Tuition Marches Forward

A bill to make some undocumented immigrants in Virginia, eligible for in-state tuition advanced out of a Senate committee on Thursday. The policy would only affect those students who are shielded from deportation by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, also known as the federal DACA program.

The bill would reduce a barrier many undocumented students face when they try to get a college education in Virginia: the price tag. Right now, young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children have to pay more costly, out-of-state tuition in Virginia, even if they’re Virginia residents. And they’re not eligible for federal student aid.

“While Virginia cannot create a path to citizenship for undocumented students, Virginia does have the power to create opportunities,” said State Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) who sponsored this legislation.

The cost difference for in-state and out-of-state students can be stark. At Virginia Commonwealth University, in-state undergraduate students paid $14,490 in tuition and mandatory fees in the 2018-19 academic year, while out-of-state students’ paid $35,798.

Simon Sandoval, an immigration attorney with the Legal Aid Justice Center said Boysko’s bill is about economic development.

“Large numbers of these students will ultimately become legal permanent residents and U.S. Citizens,” Sandoval said. “And if we don’t give them the opportunity for a college education, we’re permanently economically damaging our communities. And, in fact, higher education can be a path to legal status through high-tech visas.”

Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) crossed party lines as the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill, which passed 8-7.

Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) voted against the measure. He said Congress must first act to address illegal immigration.

“As it stands right now, the DACA children are not legally in this country or state,” Peake said. “I don’t see how I can rightfully take money away from Virginia citizens and give it to people who are not legally here.”

If the bill passes both houses of the General Assembly, and is signed by the governor, eligible students would need to live in Virginia for one year, which is the same standard for students who are U.S. residents.


Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.