Equity & Diversity

Would Federal Enticements Persuade More States to Pass DREAM Acts?

By Lesli A. Maxwell — January 22, 2014 2 min read
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Democratic lawmakers in Congress have rolled out legislation that proposes to offer financial incentives for states that adopt measures that make college tuition more affordable for undocumented students.

Introduced recently by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state, and U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, the IN-STATE for Dreamers Act would raise the fees on visas that are issued to international students who study in the United States.

That revenue—roughly $750 million during the next decade—would be funneled to states that already offer in-state tuition rates or financial aid packages to undocumented students. The measure would also seek to entice the 31 states that don’t have their own so-called DREAM Acts to scrap any legal immigration status conditions connected to receiving lower tuition and/or qualifying for financial aid.

New Jersey was the most recent state to enact legislation that will lower tuition rates for high school graduates who lack legal status but attended a state high school for at least three years, bringing the national total to 19. But Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a companion measure that would have allowed those students to be eligible for financial aid packages. Providing acess to state-supported financial aid has proven a tougher fight than lowering tuition costs in most states.

And eliminating the barrier to financial aid, many advocates argue, is more important than offering in-state tuition rates, given that most undocumented students come from low-income families.

So, can the Murray/Polis measure get any traction in Congress? And if it does, would more states be compelled to pass DREAM Acts?

Gaining traction seems iffy at best, given that only Democrats are listed as sponsors of the legislation, not to mention the larger, more divisive (and partisan) differences surrounding immigration reform.

On the flip side, Murray and Polis have focused on a subgroup of undocumented immigrants who have generated more support among Republican lawmakers. Last summer, GOP leaders in the House endorsed giving legal status to some undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children by their parents. And raising revenue through new fees imposed on international students would seem more politically palatable.

But just like in Congress, some states are just as divided on the immigration issue and no amount of federal money would likely persuade all of them to act.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.