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Repeal of Texas DREAM Act Becomes Issue for GOP 2016 Candidates

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As we noted Friday, Republicans in Texas are considering repealing the state DREAM Act. The first hearing on repeal legislation takes place today. That should have national implications and there’s a very good chance the Texas DREAM Act will be debated during the GOP presidential contest, as it was in 2012.  Today, the New York Times “First Draft” picked up on the potential for this to become an issue for 2016 contenders, particularly those with ties to Texas.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, who is contemplating another run for President, originally signed the bill into law.  During a GOP Presidential debate in 2011, he said Republicans who opposed educating undocumented students did not have a heart:

Perry got intense pushback from other Republicans for supporting that statement. Mitt Romney, who eventually secured the GOP nomination in 2012, even said he would veto the DREAM Act if it reached his desk.

But, this time, he’s staying out of the debate according to the NY Times:

Reflecting how the tenor of the immigration debate has changed in a few short years, Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry, said he declined to weigh in on the repeal effort.

“It’s a decision for the Texas Legislature,” she said, adding that the law Mr. Perry signed was “an economic decision that Texas was forced to make because of the federal government’s failure to secure the border.”

The effort to repeal the Texas DREAM Act has national implications, not only for Perry, but for his fellow Texan, Senator Ted Cruz, who has declared his candidacy. Cruz has staked out  strong anti-immigrant views in his 2016 campaign, which comports with his voting record in the U.S. Senate.

In addition, Governor Chris Christie, who may be running for the GOP nomination signed a similar law for New Jersey in 2013. At the time, the New Jersey Governor said: “You’re an inspiration to us because in you we see all that our country can be.” And, he used language similar to Perry’s in the 2011 debate.

Christie said even those who are “cold hearted” about the issue can’t argue with the economic benefit of extending in-state tuition to students in whom the state already invests tens of thousands of public education dollars. “An investment made should be an investment maximized,” he said.

Two of the other potential GOP candidates, Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush are from Florida, where that state’s GOP Governor Rick Scott signed a Florida DREAM Act in 2014. Rubio was an early advocate for legislation similar to the Texas law and was, in fact,  sponsor of the Florida legislation when he served in Tallahassee. Since then, Rubio has held several different positions on this issue as Alex Leary from the Tampa Bay Tribune explained:

As a legislator, the son of Cuban immigrants supported bills to grant the tuition break.

It was jarring, then, to hear Rubio in October 2011 say this: “As a general rule, people in the United States who are here without documents should not benefit from programs like in-state tuition.” He said carve-outs, while a worthy objective, have become harder to justify.

Rubio made that remark during a forum in Washington. It came before he dove into the immigration debate, first pursuing a version of the Dream Act that would not lead to citizenship then becoming an architect of the Senate’s comprehensive bill. The moderate state legislator-turn anti-“amnesty” Senate candidate, had gone full circle. (In February of this year, Rubio was again supportive of in-state tuition, but put focus on overall federal law changes toward immigrants*)

As Governor, Jeb Bush supported instate tuition for DREAMers back in 2006:

Gov. Jeb Bush says that’s not fair to teens who’ve worked hard in school and whose families have otherwise tried to follow the rules.

“My point of view is, if you’ve been in this state for many years, you’re valedictorian of your high school, and your parents have paid taxes and you maybe have been working and paid taxes, you’re an in-state resident.”

The governor supports a bill that would grant in-state tuition waivers to at least 500 children of illegal immigrants. The legislation could cost the state more than $6 million a year if all the slots were filled.

Bush offered praise for the law signed by Governor Scott in 2014. And, Bush also defended Perry following the blow up in 2011:

With Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry under attack for supporting tuition breaks for children of illegal immigrants, former Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday offered some solidarity by calling a similar proposal in Florida “fair policy.”

In 2001, Perry signed the first state law in the country that allowed the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates. Former Florida state Rep. Juan Zapata said the Texas law was “the model” for legislation that he repeatedly–but unsuccessfully–pushed in his state. Two of his key allies then are now among the GOP’s most sought-after stars: Bush, the subject of perpetual draft movements to run for president, and his fellow Floridian, Sen. Marco Rubio, a sure bet for the GOP’s vice presidential shortlist in 2012.

Jeb Bush has close ties to Texas. His son, George P. Bush, is the state’s elected Commissioner of the Texas General Land Office and, of course, his brother, George W., was Governor of the state. Having recently been presented with the University of Texas’ first Latino Leadership Award, George P. has yet to issue a statement on his party’s eagerness to dismantle the Texas DREAM Act.

The NY Times noted that Jeb Bush and Rand Paul “did not respond to requests for comment” on this issue. Yet, the GOP presidential candidates have not been hesitant to weigh in on state legislative issues, which are important to their base. Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, among others, were quick to weigh in on the controversy over the LGBT discrimination law in Indiana, siding with that state’s Governor, Mike Pence.

There is a very tangled web here, one that ties Republicans and  immigration at both the state and national level, and it is time that we as a community unweave it.