In-state tuition for children of illegal immigrants? Republican candidates disagree.

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — September 26, 2011 3 min read
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The 10-year-old Texas Dream Act, which permits the children of illegal immigrants to obtain in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities, has resurfaced as a point of contention for candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, who are using the law as an opportunity to discuss their stances on immigration, education, and states’ rights. Candidates walk a thin line: programs that are perceived as encouraging illegal immigration aren’t popular with Tea Partiers and the base, but candidates who take too hard a line risk alienating the ever-growing population of Latino voters.

Texas Governor Rick Perry was booed this month at a debate sponsored by the Tea Party Express after he stood by the tuition policy, which he signed into law in 2001 and categorized as a states’ rights issue (Perry opposes the proposed federal DREAM Act, which is more expansive than Texas’s law). “I’m proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole,” Perry said at the September 12 debate. Candidate Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, sided with Perry, saying: “I don’t want to punish young kids for the sins of their parents.”

Where do the other candidates line up on providing in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants? Here’s what they’ve been saying so far:

Ron Paul “The state of Texas shouldn’t be forced to provide free health care and free education [to illegal immigrants].” Republican debate at the Reagan Library, 9/7/11
Newt Gingrich “You have someone who came here at 3 years of age and now they’re 19... I suspect we’re going to want to find some way to enable them to move toward legality, if not citizenship.”
But Perry has “narrowed the choices way too much”
Comments at Orlando Public Library, 9/15/11
Mitt Romney “The reason they come in such great numbers is because we’ve left the magnet on....when employers are willing to hire people who are here illegally, that’s a magnet... And we went in and talked about...giving tuition breaks to the kids of illegal aliens... Those things also have to be stopped.”
Republican debate at the Reagan Library, 9/7/11
Michelle Bachmann “The Hispanic-American community wants us to stop giving taxpayer- subsidized benefits to illegal aliens..., and they want us to stop giving taxpayer-subsidized benefits to their children as well.”
Republican debate at the Reagan Library, 9/7/11
Jon Huntsman “I don’t want to punish young kids for the sins of their parents.”
Interview with Wolf Blitzer, 9/15/11
Rick Santorum "[Perry] provided in-state tuition for -- for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote -- I mean, the Latino voters. But you attract Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration in this country...What we should do is enforce the laws in this country with respect to employers, and we should secure the border. And then after the border is secured, then we can deal with the problems that are in this country.”
Tea Party Express debate, 9/12/11
Rick Perry “In the state of Texas, if you’ve been in the state of Texas for three years, if you’re working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there....No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you...in the state of Texas where Mexico has a clear and a long relationship with this state, we decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity.”
Tea Party Express debate, 9/12/11
Herman Cain Cain hasn’t directly addressed in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants, but made it clear that he thinks it’s an issue for states: “Secure the border...enforce the laws that are already there...Empower the states to do what the federal government hasn’t done, can’t do, and won’t do. This is how we solve the entire problem.” Republican debate at the Reagan Library, 9/7/11

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