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“Dream Act” Supporters Praise, Push Perry

November 4, 2011

SAN ANTONIO – Gov. Rick Perry is not backing down from his support of the "Texas Dream Act," despite steady criticism from opponents in his race for the Republican presidential nomination.

Texas was the first of a dozen states to allow undocumented residents to pay in-state college tuition - a policy that has won Perry praise from immigrant advocates, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). Its legislative staff attorney, Luis Figueroa, is urging Perry to take "the logical next step" of supporting a national Dream Act, which would clear the way for undocumented immigrants to work legally after they graduate.

"For these students, for the Texas economy and for political reasons, we believe that candidate Perry - and the other candidates, too, but particularly Perry, because of his legacy - should support the Dream Act."

In recent years, federal Dream Act legislation has seen majority, bipartisan support in Congress - but never enough to overcome Senate filibusters. Figueroa thinks Perry is in a position to lead on the issue, but the governor says, as president, he would oppose the Dream Act.

One criticism of Texas' in-state tuition policy is that it makes illegal immigration more attractive. Perry disagrees, contending that disenfranchising young undocumented residents would wind up costing the state more in social spending. Figueroa says public investment in such children begins well before their college years, since states are constitutionally obligated to provide all children with elementary and secondary educations.

"In-state tuition fulfills that investment and allows these students to get a college degree. It's just a shame that these kids cannot work in the field that they've dreaming about since they were kids."

Refusing to grant work permits, Figueroa says, prevents graduates from contributing fully to the economy.

Figueroa rejects arguments that states such as Texas are giving lawbreakers a free ride with in-state tuition. He points out that residents - whether documented or not - pay taxes which support public schools and universities.

"In many cases, these kids have no relation to their home country. They memorize the Texas pledge, the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States, and are reciting it with their student classmates right next to them. So this is their country."

Along with allowing in-state tuition, Texas also awards financial aid to some undocumented immigrants who pledge to pursue permanent U.S. residency. That brings up concerns about aid resources, but defenders of the policy say it only affects a small percentage of Texas grants.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX