5 Jan 2017
Austin, TX

A showdown is looming in the Texas Legislature over in-state tuition benefits for the children of illegal immigrants as the two top leaders of the state’s legislative bodies are at odds on the issue.

Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) told the San Antonio Express-News the current law is “perfectly acceptable” in an interview published on Thursday. The statement comes in stark contrast with the position of the state’s Lt. Governor, Dan Patrick, who leads the Texas Senate and opposes the current law.

“Why do we charge an American student, maybe a Mexican-American student, maybe who lives in Oklahoma, who wants to come to a school in Texas — why would we charge him three or four times as much as the illegal student who is here in Texas who wants to go to college?” Patrick asked in an interview with Fox News in December.

Patrick campaigned on the issue while running against three other Republicans in the 2014 Primary Election. He claimed he was the only candidate on the Republican ballot that opposed in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. He also stated that he coauthored a floor amendment to HB 1581 (the bill that created the program in 2001) that would have abolished the benefit had it passed. The amendment was voted down.

When he was reminded the bill authorizing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants was signed into law by then-Governor Rick Perry, Patrick responded that Perry will be “a great Energy secretary. He’s a dear friend. But I disagreed with him on that … We have to put America and Americans first.” The issue was one of the causes of Perry’s 2012 presidential bid’s failure.

Speaker Straus disagrees. “My personal position is that the law, as it is, is perfectly acceptable,” Straus told the Express-News. When young people graduate from public schools, he said that “the state and local districts have invested in their success.”

“There’s no debate at all that we need more and better-skilled people in our workforce,” the House Speaker continued. “I see no benefit to the state, or to the state’s future, by limiting the success of people who’ve played by the rules and have qualified for higher education and who can become successful citizens of the state of Texas and productive in our economy.”

If not repealed, the in-state tuition benefit could become very expensive to Texas taxpayers as Congress and a new President move forward to control illegal immigration. U.S. Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA) filed a bill in December that would strip Title IV funding from institutions of higher learning that, among other things, provided instate tuition to illegal immigrants.

The No Funding for Sanctuary Campuses Act would strip federal funding from any institution of higher learning that creates a public benefit of in-state tuition. “It is the sense of the Congress that providing the public benefit of in-state tuition to an alien who lacks lawful immigration status in the United States creates an incentive for illegal immigration and encourages and induces aliens to come to, enter,” Hunter wrote in the bill.

State Representative Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) said he plans to file a bill to roll back the in-state tuition benefit for illegal immigrants.

“It is time to put Texas children first. That is why I filed a bill to repeal in state college tuition for illegals,” Stickland tweeted in November 2016.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has previously called for reform of the bill which he has called flawed and poorly worded. Abbott said he would not veto a bill repealing the law, The Hill reported in November.

Gov. Abbott went further during a media round-table attended by Breitbart Texas in December. “In-state tuition should be for those who are in the state validly, and that’s what the law was intended to achieve. And if the law is not going to achieve this intended goal, then it should be repealed,” Abbott stated.

“The way that it’s structured right now is that if you get in-state tuition, you are supposed to be demonstrating that you working toward establishing legal status in this state. And that structure doesn’t exist right now,” he explained. Some illegal immigrants have obtained temporary legal status through, what many believe to be unconstitutional, an administrative executive action by the Obama Administration called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

President-Elect Donald Trump has been encouraged to continue the program created by President Obama, Breitbart News reported following his election in November. The DACA program in set up as a temporary program and activists have called for the program to be made permanent.

The issue of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants is likely to be hotly contested during the 85th Texas Legislative Session set to begin on January 10.