An anti-immigration senator has introduced a bill that would block states’ ability to give undocumented youths a path to affordable education. On Wednesday, Chairman of the Senate Border Security Caucus Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) released a bill that would “close the current loophole” and prevent undocumented youths from being eligible for in-state tuition, calling on lawmakers to instead support policies that help American students.
Vitter stated that making undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition “could end up putting illegal immigrants ahead of American citizens”:
“Some of our nation’s highest unemployment rates are among recent college graduates, and we should be supporting policies that help American students get an opportunity to go to college and compete for good jobs,” said Vitter. “American students should always come first. Too many states are blatantly disregarding the spirit of existing immigration law, which could end up putting illegal immigrants ahead of American citizens.”
Despite federal policy preventing states from granting post-secondary education benefits to illegal immigrants on the basis of residency, fifteen states have exploited a loophole in the law by offering alternative criteria, such as graduation from an in-state high school, to allow illegal immigrant students to qualify for in-state tuition rates. Three states have taken a step further by allowing illegal immigrants students to qualify for state financial aid.
The federal government does not grant federal aid — let alone access to in-state tuition — to any undocumented immigrants, and neither have at least four states. A minority of states have made an independent judgment, however, to give their undocumented students access because state legislation makes in-state tuition contingent on high school attendance and graduation, rather than residency within the state. Vitter’s bill would undermine this by preventing any state action on the issue and effectively blocking all undocumented students from an affordable college education.
Without in-state tuition, college could be out of financial reach for many undocumented students whose average annual household income is $36,000. Undocumented students are legally ineligible to apply for federal financial aid and most state aid. Private loans and scholarships often have stipulations that require students to either be lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens. And dedicated scholarships for the undocumented community are sometimes underfunded, localized to certain states, or even schools.
Many undocumented immigrants enroll in community colleges which have open enrollment and thus have “zero impact” on admission rates of American students. The National Immigration Law Center also found that students who attend four-year colleges do not have enough impact to “affect the opportunities of others.”
This is not the first time that Vitter has demonized undocumented immigrants. In 2013, the senator opposed a New Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office decision to decline voluntary immigration detention requests, which would give officials wider discretion to not detain immigrants solely based on immigration status. At the time, Vitter said, “we know of many instances in which an illegal alien is released by local authorities and then commits a fatal crime.” In 2010, Vitter put out a controversial attack ad against his then-opponent Rep. Charlie Melancon, which features border crossers sneaking through a fence under a lit welcome sign. In 2008, Vitter introduced a series of failed anti-immigration proposals including making a single DUI into a deportable offense, jail time for border crossers, and more border fencing.