Much political noise is being generated by Texas Governor Rick Perry’s answer to a series of immigration questions in the Fox/Google GOP debate, especially when he replied:
“But if you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there, by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children because they will become a drag on our society.”
For this statement Perry has been accused of being soft on immigration, pandering to illegals, and using liberal “touchy-feely” political talking points to garner favor with Hispanic voters. But I think there are several things going on in this discussion that require some more thought than a sound bite or two.
First, the facts.
Undocumented students can pay instate tuition at Texas colleges and universities
and are considered residents of Texas if they meet the following requirements.
HB 1403 – Effective as of June 16, 2001
SB 1528 (which amended the original bill (HB 1403) to provide instate tuition to everyone in the state meeting the requirements) – Effective as of September 1, 2005.
- Lived in Texas three years prior to high school graduation or obtaining a GED from Texas or
- Resided in Texas the (full) year prior to enrollment in an institution of higher education
- Provide an affidavit stating intent to apply for Permanent Residency when eligible to do so
Compare this to what the federal effort for a DREAM Act looked like:
To amend the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 to permit States to determine State residency for higher education purposes and to authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain alien students who are long-term United States residents and who entered the United States as children, and for other purposes.
in which all sorts of other, non-educational “fixes” were mashed together, like permanent residency and deportation. That open-ended bit at the end there isn’t an accident.
Secondly, this map from Numbers USA shows exactly how many states prohibit in-state tuition rates for illegal aliens. Note that only four states prohibit making such rates available. So Perry isn’t the sole governor (and Texas isn’t the sole state) that has made this in-state tuition rate available to children of illegal immigrants.
Thirdly, this wasn’t an unpopular thing to support in Texas until recently. The Texas Tribune looked at the vote for the Texas DREAM Act here, and notes that the results (ten years ago) showed massive support from both Democrats and Republicans. You might reasonably ask how Texas went from huge support for a Texas DREAM Act in 2001 to igniting a national firestorm ten years later. The answer seems to include at least one of the following:
- Economic downturn
- High unemployment
- Growth of illegal immigrant population
- Frustration with national Amnesty efforts
But the things I think are being confused here are on one hand, educating children of illegal immigrants in general; and on the other, offering specific college benefits to children of illegal immigrants that are not available to children of U.S. citizens living outside of Texas. We ought to be able to separate out the two, and discuss each independently of the other. Perry’s statement seemed to be worded to concentrate on the former, whereas many people in the country are seriously concerned about the latter. When taxpayers pay most of the cost of a public university education, it makes sense to discuss the issue.
No one argues that the various states in this nation are shouldering a huge burden to finance education for illegal aliens at the K-12 level. Public schools in many places are now even offering preschool programs for children of illegals, predicated on the idea that children in homes where English is not the primary language easily fall behind in the educational system. (This, of course, does not seem to be utilized much by children of other immigrants, legal or otherwise, speaking languages other than Spanish.)
But think through all the facts, and consider how states get to these decisions:
- The federal government doesn’t protect the borders
- The states can’t completely replace the federal government in protecting the borders
- Illegal immigration persists in the United States
- Millions of children of illegal immigrants live in the United States
Each state has to decide how to respond to the difficulty. And no state has a longer border with Mexico than Texas, or more opportunity (especially since the recession began) for those who do cross the border and find work here, or offers more incentive to try it. And right now, just at the K-12 level, there are vast numbers of children of illegal immigrants living in Texas. And if they were not allowed to be in school, where would they go? What would they do? These are not rhetorical questions. And we can’t simply brush them off with “They shouldn’t be here.” They are here. That’s another fact. And no amount of “But they should…” speeches will change what Texas faces NOW.
You can agree or disagree with the official Texas policies about college admission or financial aid to illegal immigrant students. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue. But I would wager that the predominant motivator for people to cross the border is not “getting my kid a good college education at lower rates than out-of-state students.” And so perhaps we ought to spend more time dealing with the main issue, and then tackle the peripheral issues involved.
Working for serious border solutions, combined with disincentives and punitive fines for businesses that hire illegals, would do more to reverse the immigration trends than anything else. There’s speculation that the downturn in the economy has already halted or reversed those recent immigration trends. Long-term solutions require a push back against businesses in Texas (Bob Perry homebuilder, HEB) who lobbied against a sanctuary cities bill, or working to convince or replace legislators who won’t address the problems, or pushing for legislation penalizing those businesses that profit by exploiting illegal immigrants.
In the meantime, we ought to be serious, thoughtful, and honest about dealing with the school-age population of illegal immigrants; and refuse to mash immigration, national security, economic issues and border security into one subject called “immigration.” It takes a little longer to think about them separately, but it’s likely to be far more effective.