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Texas Republicans Rev Up Attempt to Repeal State Dream Act

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With 2016 Presidential Wannabes in the Hot Seat on Immigration, How Will the 2016 GOP Field Respond?

Republicans in the Texas State Legislature seem intent on repealing the Texas Dream Act, legislation that enables eligible high school students from Texas who are undocumented to pay in-state tuition rates to attend the state’s public universities.  Texas was the first state in the country to pass a state version of the Dream Act, and the law was signed into law by Governor Rick Perry in 2001.  Today, SB 1819, a bill that promises to terminate in-state tuition rates to all undocumented students across the Lone Star State, is scheduled to be heard by the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security where it is widely expected to pass.

According to Nick Corasaniti and Maggie Haberman of the New York Timesthis Republican led repeal effort will have major political implications for the broader 2016 GOP field, starting with the state’s former Governor Rick Perry:

“Rick Perry, who is considering a 2016 run, signed the law as governor in 2001 and drew criticism from fellow Republicans for his defense of the law during a Republican primary debate in 2011. He argued then that if critics didn’t support educating children who had been brought to the state ‘through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.’

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…

…The effort to repeal the law could refocus the national immigration debate back on Texas, where the Republican base has become more opposed to laws that seem to offer a form of amnesty.

Senator Ted Cruz, whose 2016 presidential campaign headquarters are in Houston, has long opposed the tuition law.

‘We need to get serious about securing the border, and it doesn’t make any sense to give special preferences and privileges to those who are here illegally,’ Mr. Cruz said in an interview with ABC News in 2011.

Aides to Jeb Bush, who was born in Texas, and Senator Rand Paul, whose father, Ron Paul, was a Texas congressman, did not respond to requests for comment.”

Beyond those with specific ties to Texas, this GOP Dream Act repeal effort will have broader implications for the Republican field writ large. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a similar Dream Act law for his state 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.”

Two of the other potential GOP candidates, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) and former Governor Jeb Bush are from Florida, where that state’s GOP Governor Rick Scott signed a Florida DREAM Act just last year.

Rubio was an early advocate for legislation similar to the 2001 Texas law and was, in fact, a 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 Times explained:

“As a [state] 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 in-state tuition for DREAMers back in 2006.  He also offered praise for the law signed by Governor Scott in 2014 and even defended Perry following the blow up in 2011.

Additionally, 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.

According to data from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, undocumented immigrants in Texas have paid $1.6 billion dollars in state and local taxes, many of which have gone to sustain and support institutions of higher education across Texas.

Activists across Texas are mobilizing to ensure that SB 1819, one of the several bills that aim to repeal the Texas Dream Act, is defeated during the current legislative effort. A petition launched by immigrant youth-led organization United We Dream has already collected over 1,300 signatures, and undocumented students and their allies across Texas continue to voice their opposition to the Republican led effort.

According to Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, “It’s up to these candidates to tell voters exactly where they stand on issues related to immigration, Dreamers and the entire population of some 11 million undocumented immigrants settled in America. Should young people who have grown up in America and done everything asked of them have the same opportunity to attend college as other taxpayers?  Do they support the efforts by the Texas GOP to repeal a longstanding policy that has benefited tens of thousands of students?  Should Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, an approach favored by the vast majority of voters in America?”

Added Sharry, “The GOP presidential candidates have not been hesitant to weigh in on state legislative issues that are important to their base. Most were quick to weigh in on the controversy over the LGBT discrimination law in Indiana, siding with that state’s Governor, Mike Pence.  No matter how hard some may try to duck and dodge the issue of immigration, Republicans cannot escape the relentless demographic and political changes taking place across the country, nor the fact that immigration is a defining, mobilizing issue for the fastest growing groups of new voters in the nation.   How they position themselves on in-state tuition and other immigration issues will be of major consequence in 2016.”

For more information on the Republican 2016 candidates and their positions on in-state tuition, click here.