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New bill proposal aims to get rid of in-state tuition for DREAMers

New bill proposal aims to get rid of in-state tuition for DREAMers
Illustration by Jacobo De La Rosa

A new proposal has hit the Texas Senate floor, which will affect undocumented students in the country, or DREAMers, and how they’ll be paying for college or university tuition.

On April 6, the border security subcommittee of the Senate’s Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee will hear Senate Bill 1819 from Texas Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. This bill would repeal the 2001 Texas Dream Act, and keep DREAMers from paying for school with in-state residency tuition.

Local media erroneously reported about the bill, where it was stated that Mexican national students, including students attending UTEP who commute from Mexico, would be affected by this bill should it pass.

“They decided to change some of the language and I think they got confused and thought undocumented students were the same as international Mexican students,” said Dr. Gary Edens, vice president of student affairs. “It’s completely different.”

Because of incorrect information printed and broadcasted in the local media, Edens said he is worried that the 1,100 Mexican national students will get confused and think their tuition costs may be in jeopardy.

“It’s not. It’s not at all,” he said. “The bill isn’t even associated with Mexican international students. It’s associated with undocumented students and we have a very small population of DREAMers.”

There are about 130 student DREAMers who attend UTEP.

“We don’t ask students, ‘are you a DREAMer?’ So it’s hard for us to know, but we approximate that much,” Edens said.   “At UTEP, we have a program called PASE (for Mexican international students).”

In 1987, UTEP implemented the Programa de Asistencia Estudiantil, which helps Mexican international students, who are in financial need and show economic hardship, receive in-state tuition.

There is no legislation that is going to repeal PASE. The tuition rate for Mexican national students has not changed.

“Instead, what they’re looking at is for DREAMers. Often times they graduated from a high school in El Paso or San Antonio, or wherever they’re graduating, their parents may have come over and they just don’t have proof of citizenship, even though they’ve lived here all their life as a student,” Edens said. “That’s the population that this bill is trying to deny in-state tuition to.”

UTEP uses the 2001 Texas Dream Act to verify what tuition is charged to a student.

“We don’t want to get these two populations confused,” Edens said. “So if they’re coming to us from a high school in El Paso, and they’ve shown us their transcript, they’re living here and showing us water bills, we’re going to count them as a Texas resident per the law. We’re a Texas institution so we have to follow Texas residency laws.”

If this bill were to pass, DREAMer students would have to pay out-of-state tuition.

“You and I know this is a ridiculous place to debate repeal of in-state tuition. It implies that students going to university and college are a threat to the country, when in fact they are working to contribute even more,” said State Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-Texas, in a statement.

Edens said that what is happening in Austin is being monitored closely.

“That’s really important to us as well, but it is not the same as Mexican national students, and that’s what we’re really trying to clarify. There’s two populations here and we care about both of them.“

Dr. Diana Natalicio, UTEP president, said that her big concern was the misinformation going out and that students and their families will get worried when there is no issue.

“I hate to see that happen to people because I think we all have enough drama in our lives that we don’t need to react to things that turn out not to be real,” she said. “I was really disappointed when I saw this story in the Times because it had a completely different take on who was affected by the Senate bill and completely distorted what that bill was about, which is about DREAMers.”

The Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs sent out an email letter with the corrected information to all current Mexican national students, along with prospective Mexican national students who will be attending UTEP. The departments of Enrollment Services, Financial Aid and Student Life were also informed to correctly relay the information to students who may approach them.

“The bottom line for me is not discouraging any student from pursuing an education based on inaccurate information, that would really be sad to me,” Natalicio said. “Somebody at the bridge told one of our students, ‘well, I guess you’re not going to get in-state tuition anymore.’ It’s like a wild-fire.”

Phone calls were made to the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs from parents and students who were confused and worried about their tuition rates.

“I think Texas really stood proud when a decision was made to grant DREAMers in-state tuition. States like Texas need to recognize that these young people, these dreamers that is, really have proven themselves, and I’m not sure that there really is much more that they can do to be worthy of this investment in them,” Natalicio said. “In the end these are talented people, who did well in school and graduated from high schools across the state, and they’re going to make much bigger contributions to the state than they would otherwise. It’s an investment in the future. I think it would be really sad if a decision were made not to support in-state tuition for the dreamers.”

If the bill passes, UTEP will look at how it can help student DREAMers pay for school, by counseling one-on-one about the options and through scholarships.

UTEP currently offers a DREAMer scholarship, which is funded by TheDream.US and targets college-ready undocumented students who qualify under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“These are students who really are challenged in a lot of ways, and we would try to help them, particularly if they had been good students,” Natalicio said. “It would be such a shame for a junior to stop going to school because their tuition went up by a factor of three.”

Lorain Ambrocio may be reached at [email protected].

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New bill proposal aims to get rid of in-state tuition for DREAMers