Massachusetts Dreamers Get In-State Tuition

Most states with high percentages of immigrants already have similar policies.

ByABC News
November 21, 2012, 2:43 PM

Nov. 21, 2012— -- Certain young immigrants in Massachusetts will soon have a better chance at attending college after a move by Gov. Deval Patrick to grant them in-state tuition.

But despite some blowback by Republicans in that state, the policy is hardly revolutionary. In fact, Massachusetts is late to the game.

Most states with high percentages of immigrant residents give in-state tuition to undocumented students. Of the 15 states with the highest percentage of immigrant residents, nine have some form of tuition equity.

Places like New York, Illinois and Rhode Island offer in-state tuition to any student who meets certain criteria, like attending a local high school, regardless of immigration status. Three states -- California, New Mexico and Texas -- go a step further than the rest, allowing undocumented immigrants to access state financial aid.

But some states with a high percentage of immigrant residents, like New Jersey, Florida, Nevada and Arizona, do not offer in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants at all.

"It generally comes down to what party is in control of the state government," said Ben Winograd, staff attorney for the American Immigration Council, an immigrant rights group.

That's partially true. Laws granting tuition equity to undocumented immigrants tend to have come through Democratic legislatures. But the passage of the Texas Dream Act is a good example of bipartisan cooperation on the issue.

When the bill came up for a vote back in 2001, Republicans had a one-seat advantage in the State Senate and Democrats controlled the House. The governor, Rick Perry, was a Republican. The bill passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by Perry, who later stood by the decision during his bid to become the Republican presidential nominee.

"In a state like Texas you also have certain demographic realities that the legislature has to come to grips with," Winograd said.

Bipartisan cooperation -- or any legislative action, for that matter -- may not be necessary for states to adopt tuition policies similar to what's happening in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, in-state tuition is not available to undocumented immigrants -- just those immigrants who have been approved for a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

The program allows certain young immigrants who have been in the country illegally to live and work in the U.S. on a temporary basis. If approved, immigrants are issued a work permit.

That work permit is what gave Gov. Patrick the grounds to extend in-state tuition to DACA recipients. Since 2008, Massachusetts has used work permits as a way to establish that an immigrant is eligible for resident tuition rates.

Other states could adopt a similar policy, if they don't have one already, and circumvent the need for legislation altogether.

That said, the policy in Massachusetts will impact a narrower segment of immigrants than what exists in other states, since in-state tuition will only be available to DACA recipients and not the general population of undocumented immigrants.

Of the roughly 4.4 million undocumented immigrants under 30 in the U.S., only 1.7 million are estimated to be eligible for deferred action, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Since the program was started in mid-August, roughly 308,000 people have applied nationwide, and 53,000 have been approved.