How Missouri whacked hundreds of Dreamers’ plans to attend college this fall

By Valerie Strauss August 4 at 10:11 AM

President Obama in 2014 announced an expansion the number of people covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With only a few words, lawmakers in Missouri have made it exponentially more difficult — if not impossible — for several hundred students to attend college this fall.

As a result of a small but important change in the language of a state higher-education funding bill during the recent legislative session, some students are now facing monumental tuition hikes, KCUR reported.

Spearheaded by state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R), language was changed in the bill regarding students covered under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), which allows undocumented immigrants who meet specific requirements to receive work permits and stay in the United States without fear of deportation.

State lawmakers cannot change the federal program, but they can decide how they want to provide state benefits to young people — known as Dreamers — who qualify under DACA.

According to the National Immigration Law Center, at least 17 states have laws allowing undocumented students who meet specific requirements to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities.

But the Missouri legislature changed funding language in reference to the Dreamers from “unlawfully present” to “unlawful immigration status.” The difference means that Missouri DACA students can’t get in-state tuition, and, as a result, have seen their college bills skyrocket.
The KCUR story by Sam Zeff quotes a young woman named Alejandra who came to the United States illegally when she was 2. She said she recently learned that her tuition of $5,000 a year at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was jumping to $14,000 a year, the amount for international students (higher than out-of-state), because of the legislative language change.

The story notes that the university — as well as the University of Missouri-St. Louis — has found private money to pay the gap for Alejandra and about 30 other students for the fall semester. But scores of other students don’t know how they will pay for tuition this fall — and spring semester is still up in the air for all of them. One young woman named Yara Puente, who attended a community college, is now planning to work this fall to save money to return to college.

Fitzpatrick, the story reported, said Missouri already does a lot for these students, such as offering them K-12 public education, and that he would “have grandfathered DACA students already in school had anyone in higher education asked him to do so.”

He needed to be asked?