PRESS STATEMENTThursday, February 1st, 2018Contact: Nicholas Valdes | Nick@tnimmigrant.org
Class of 2018 Hopeful for their Dream of a Higher EducationNASHVILLE - Today, Senator Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) and Representative White (R-Memphis) re-introduced legislation that would allow all Tennessee graduates, regardless of their immigration status, to pay in-state tuition (SB2263/HB2729). Under current policy, undocumented students are not eligible for in-state tuition rates and must pay more than three times as much as their classmates to attend a public college or university, no matter how long they've lived in Tennessee. Sadly, these policies have put a college education out-of-reach for many in Tennessee. If passed, this bill would allow Tennessee graduates to pay their way through colleges at the same rate as their peers. For the past five years, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) and our members across the state have worked tirelessly on the campaign for tuition opportunity by organizing undocumented students and building a broad coalition of supporters. We are optimistic that undocumented students in the Class of 2018 will be the last class to graduate without the barrier of out-of-state tuition.The following is a statement from Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga):"This bill allows more students to pay into our colleges and universities, allows more Tennesseans to get a college degree and contribute even more to our state and our economy. This is an education and economic development bill that benefits our whole state. That’s why 72% of Tennessee voters support this common-sense approach."The following is a statement from Representative Mark White (R-Memphis): "All children should have hope that they can better their future through education. I am encouraged that President Trump agrees that these children are innocent and should not bear the blame of a broken immigration system. All of our futures rest in the strength of our children."The following is a statement from Carlos Reyes, TIRRC Member:“I have been a student in Tennessee schools since I was 1 year old. When I was a junior in high school, I realized that having to pay the out-of-state rate limited my ability to follow my dreams of attending college and pursuing a medical degree. Even though I knew it would be a challenge to pay the higher rate, I was thrilled to be accepted into MTSU as part of the class of 2017. I thought that if I worked hard enough and took a few classes at a time that I would be able to afford it. Unfortunately, the cost was too big a burden, and I had to drop out this semester. This year, I‘ll work even harder to pass this bill, not just for myself but for the thousands of Tennesseans who want to go to college and give back to our communities.”
Background: - Tennessee is home to approximately 25,000 undocumented youth who have lived here most of their lives. Tennessee invests in undocumented students from kindergarten through high school, and undocumented parents invest in Tennessee, paying more than $107.4 million in state and property taxes in 2014.
- The campaign for tuition equality in Tennessee began in 2012 led by the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition. Since that time support for the bill has been growing in both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature. In 2015, a similar bill passed the Senate 21-12 but failed in the House by a single vote.
- Over the years, the coalition of supporters for this policy has grown, and previous supporters include: Governor Haslam, Tennessee Farm Bureau, Chambers of Commerce, Tennessee Board of Regents, University of Tennessee, among others.
- Support amongst Tennessee voters has also increased. A December 2017 Vanderbilt poll found that 72% of Tennesseans favor granting undocumented students the opportunity to pay in-state tuition, up 6 points from a year ago.
- At least twenty other states have realized the economic and societal benefits of offering in-state tuition to undocumented students. Many of these states have had these laws on the books for several years; for example, in Texas and California, the law has been in place since 2001; Kansas and Oklahoma the law has been in place since 2004 and 2003, respectively.
- Attorney General Slatery issued an opinion in December 2017 that clarified that states can affirmatively grant in-state tuition to undocumented students and be in compliance with federal law. This bill is in compliance with federal law.
TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.