Virginia Attorney General Declares ‘Dreamers’ Eligible for In-State Tuition

Laura Vozzella and Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 29, 2014

Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring thrust himself and his state back into the national spotlight Tuesday by announcing that some illegal immigrants who were brought to this country as children can qualify for in-state college tuition under existing law.

Herring made the announcement at Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria campus just a few months after the legislature declined to enact the idea and on the heels of another brazen legal move in January, when he declared that the state’s ban on gay marriage was unconstitutional.

“We should welcome these smart, talented, hard-working young people into our economy and society rather than putting a stop sign at the end of 12th grade,” Herring (D) said Tuesday to sustained applause and cheers from a room full of Latino students, immigration activists and education officials.

Announced in Spanish, Hindi, Vietnamese and Korean in addition to English, Herring’s move built upon President Obama’s decision to allow thousands of young illegal immigrants to remain in the country. Virginia students who are lawfully present in the United States as a result of Obama’s effort, which is known as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, qualify for in-state tuition as long as they meet the state’s residency requirements, Herring said.

Herring’s decision was far more than symbolic, instantly making college more affordable for more than 8,000 young illegal immigrants. {snip}

For affected students, securing an in-state discount would remove a financial hurdle that is insurmountable for many moderate-income families. At the University of Virginia, undergraduate tuition and fees in the coming school year for Virginia residents will total $12,998. For those from out of state, the charge will be $42,184.

{snip} This school year, there are about 137,000 Virginians who are undergraduates at public four-year universities. That’s about 80 percent of total enrollment. Herring’s move could provoke debate about the fiscal impact on public universities.

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The attorney general’s announcement came after a legislative session in which a Republican-dominated House of Delegates and an evenly divided Senate declined to approve “Dream Act” bills, which would have accomplished through statute what Herring did Tuesday with the stroke of a pen. Similarly, his challenge to the marriage ban came as legislators made a failed bid this year to repeal it.

Herring said that in both cases, he was fulfilling his duty to ensure that the state’s policies and constitution comply with federal rules and the U.S. Constitution.

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Herring’s legal interpretation, that the affected students have legal “domicile” in the state, could be reversed by a future attorney general. Still, his position has suddenly opened the door to a less expensive college education for thousands.

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McAuliffe offered his full support, as did Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and the Virginia Catholic Conference, a group at odds with Herring in the marriage case.

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Across the country, 19 states, including Maryland, have enacted some form of in-state tuition for qualified young illegal immigrants, spanning a variety of regions and political leanings. The others are: Texas, California, Utah, New York, Washington, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Connecticut, Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii, Michigan and Rhode Island.

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