DREAM Act to again see floors of Arkansas legislature
Arkansas Sen. Joyce Elliott, who represents the district that houses UALR, has said that she will again introduce state legislation that is aimed at granting children of illegal aliens resident tuition to public colleges and universities in the state.
Elliott, 61, who recently began her second term as a Democratic senator for the 33rd District, has “said she plans to introduce another bill that would grant the in-state rates to anyone who has attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has an Arkansas high school diploma or general education diploma in the state,” according to The Associated Press.
Elliott introduced such legislation in both 2005 and 2009, both of which bore similarities to federal proposals, but was twice voted down despite 2005 support from then-Gov. Mike Huckabee. Also an avid proponent of the bill and of Elliott is Chancellor Joel Anderson. Anderson has been an active proponent each time that Elliott has introduced the legislation.
“Elliott’s planned proposal would come months after President Barack Obama announced last year that some young illegal immigrants would be allowed temporary status and work permits,” according to The Associated Press. “Voters in Maryland also recently approved in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions.
The legislation, which has in the past been labeled the DREAM Act — Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act — “would provide conditional permanent residency to certain illegal aliens of good moral character who graduate from U.S. high schools, arrived in the U.S. as minors, and lived in the country continuously for at least five years prior to the bill’s enactment,” according to a UALR news release. “It would offer them paths to citizenship by serving in the military or obtaining a degree. It also would allow states to consider them in-state students for tuition rate purpose.”
Anderson said that he sees matters related to immigration as being contentious and emotional issues, but believes that the ideals presented in the language of the act should be of bipartisan agreement.
“It really is focused on youngsters,” Anderson said. “And one of the things that I have said through the years is that that ought to be pulled out and dealt with separately from all of the other immigration issues, because that’s one that people — Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives, everybody — ought to be able to reach common ground on what’s good for these children.”
The state of legislation in Arkansas currently classifies students who are from undocumented immigrant families as non-resident students when they enter college, and Anderson likened the rates that apply to such students to those that international students are charged.
“Here we are talking about people who have gone to school, and have graduated from high school, and who want to go to college in the state, and we’re turning them away,” he said. “That’s a classic example of people cutting off their nose despite their face. It would be to the advantage of the people of Arkansas … for these students to go to college — it’s just good for everyone.”
Anderson said that the legislation should not only benefit those potential students affected, but the state as well.
The state legislation isn’t original to Arkansas, but mirrors the federal DREAM Act, which was first introduced to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in 2001. Although no national precedent exists on the matter, there are currently more than a dozen states whose legislatures have adopted such measures, Anderson said.
“In a sense, what has been happening is these youngsters have been punished for the acts of their parents,” he said, “and that does not make sense. That is just not fair to them. That’s historically not the way we thought we did justice in this country.”
A 15-hour tuition rate for non-resident undergraduate students at UALR currently costs around $8,500, which is more than twice the rate — around $3,500 — that non-residents pay for the same course load.
“Out-of-state tuition rates in Arkansas are about twice the in-state rates,” according to a Jan. 14 story by the Associated Press. “In fall 2012, about 12.5 percent of the 156,252 students who were enrolled in public colleges and universities paid out-of-state tuition, according to Arkansas Department of Higher Education spokeswoman Brandi Hinkle.”