AFEW years ago, William J. Howell, the speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, said that newcomers to the state, such as immigrants, might not heed the “shared values we have in Virginia.” One hopes that one of those shared values is that children should not be punished for the mistakes of their parents. But Mr. Howell (R-Stafford) appears to have turned his back on that notion.
He and the GOP leadership in Virginia evidently remain intent on handicapping the blameless children of illegal immigrants. Even if undocumented students grow up in Virginia and graduate from a high school in the state, Republican leaders in Richmond insist that they pay out-of-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities, which are two or three times higher than the in-state levels.
Legislation that would allow these students to pay in-state rates recently cleared the Education Committee in the House of Delegates with broad bipartisan support; the vote on the bill was 19 to 3. Then Mr. Howell saw to it that the bill was sent to die in the Appropriations Committee, of all places. Never mind that the measure would not obligate the state to assume any new long-term financial obligations.
The legislation would apply only to undocumented students who arrived in this country before June 2007 and have qualified for protection from deportation and to work legally under a dispensation granted by the Obama administration. To qualify for in-state tuition, families would have to have paid Virginia income taxes for at least the past three years. The number of such students graduating from state high schools and determined to go to a public university or college is small — perhaps 100 or so annually for the next decade. In moral or economic terms, it is senseless and self-defeating to deny them the opportunity to fulfill their potential by making college prohibitively expensive.
Nonetheless, some Republicans say they oppose the bill — sponsored by Del. Thomas Davis Rust (R-Fairfax) — because it would enable undocumented students to take slots from native-born Virginians and legal immigrants. Theoretically, that’s true. However, the state has been expanding enrollment at colleges and universities, so the number of those denied a place in favor of an undocumented student is probably tiny.
Some Republican lawmakers, meeting in private, expressed concern that allowing the bill to come to a vote on the House floor would split the party and open the door to primary challenges of incumbents who voted for it. That may be true. It’s equally true that Republicans will squander any hope of reviving their low standing with Hispanic voters if they persist in slamming the door of opportunity in the faces of students whose only mistake was to have been born to undocumented parents.