AG finds fault with bill on in-state tuition for illegal immigrant children

Attorney General Herbert Slatery says state lawmakers, not officials at Tennessee’s public colleges and universities, must decide whether to offer in-state tuition breaks for students whose parents brought or kept them in the country illegally.

The opinion was requested by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, and deals with HB660, a bill that would give schools the authority to make decisions.

Excerpt from the Associated Press report:

One of the problems with the initial bill is that while it mentions the issue of in-state tuition, it fails to specifically cite immigrants who are in the country illegally, Slatery said. Even if that is changed, he added, legal precedent seems to show that lawmakers need to be responsible for the decision.

“Every court to have addressed this provision has interpreted it to require the state legislature to enact legislation expressly making unlawful aliens eligible for public benefits, including in-state tuition,” Slatery wrote.

Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said wording the legislation more explicitly about immigrants makes it a tougher sell among lawmakers. That’s despite a Vanderbilt University poll released last week that found more than 7 in 10 Tennessee voters surveyed favor the tuition break for students brought to the country illegally at a young age.

“In today’s political climate, especially in a year where everyone is running for office again, it makes it very difficult to spell it out,” White said.

The proposal to let individual institutions make in-state tuition decisions failed earlier this year. So did a bill to grant those students in-state tuition across all public colleges and universities, which White also sponsored. Both bills are expected to be considered again in 2018.

… Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, policy director at the Tennessee Immigration & Refugee Rights Coalition, said Slatery’s opinion was good news.

“The attorney general made it clear that states can write laws to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students and be in compliance with federal law,” Sherman-Nikolaus said.

Note: The full opinion is HERE.

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