A Senate panel killed a measure Thursday that would have allowed undocumented immigrant children who achieve federal deferred-action status under President Barack Obama's July executive order to pay in-state tuition at Virginia's public colleges and universities.
Known as the Virginia DREAM Act the legislation would have allowed undocumented students who have achived federal deferred-action status; attended high school in Virginia for at least three years and graduated; whose parents have paid Virginia income taxes; and have been accepted to a state university to pay the same tuition as legal Virginia residents.
The bill's co-sponsor Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, said these students would be allowed to work in Virginia and get drivers licenses under the federal deferred-action program, but under Virginia law would have to pay out-of-state tuition if they are accepted to a Virginia public university.
"It's a a question of what do you with these kids who have graduated high school," Ebbin said. "Do we just say 'you might as well drop out.' "
He noted that 12 other states offer undocumented students in-state tuition with less restrictions.
Sen. Jeffrey McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, worried that Virginia citizens would be denied admission to state universities in favor of undocumented deferred-action status.
Ebbin assured the committee that measure did not set aside any special slots at the state's colleges for these students. He said they must be admitted on their own merit. If they are admitted they would then be able to pay the in-state tuition rate.
Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, pointed out that these students were brought to the state by their parents when they were young and had no say in the matter, then did what was asked of them in the commonwealth's K-12 public schools.
He warned reluctant colleagues that with the state's changing demographics, there could be political ramifications in the future for those who vote against the bill.
"Quite frankly if you vote against it you're just standing against the tide of history," Saslaw said.
The full Senate has approved similar less-restrive measures in the past - even one sponsored by a Republican. But the measure was defeated on party-line vote Thursday.
"I think it sends a very unfortunate message that Virginia isn't ready for prime time yet when it comes to fair treatment of its children," said the measures other co-sponsor Sen. Don McEachin. "I'm disappointed that it broke down along party lines, and I'm sad that the GOP hasn't yet opened up its heart to all of our children."