Immigrant Tuition Break Survives

Immigrant tuition break survives
Technical glitch halts vote to repeal rules on students illegally in the U.S.

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
May 10, 2007, 2:00AM

AUSTIN A bill to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants was knocked down in the House on Wednesday, but only after emotional debate that pitted backers who called it a show of support for immigration laws against critics who decried it as a painful sign of intolerance.

Rep. Tommy Merritt, R-Longview, raised a technical objection to House Bill 159, stopping consideration of the measure before a vote occurred.

“If we're going to have students from the other 49 states coming into the state of Texas, I believe it's inherently unfair that in essence they would pay a higher tuition rate than those who are in this country illegally,” said Rep. Bill Zedler, R-Arlington, sponsor of the bill to repeal the tuition break, saying the difference could amount to $12,000 per student.

Opponents said that illegal immigrants must leap more stringent hurdles than those who move here from out of state to qualify for the lower in-state tuition and that derailing the tuition break would crush the dreams of thousands.

“We as a body are being asked to succumb to a small voice in our world that is intolerant regardless of any rational arguments,” said Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston. “The small intolerant voice is one that does not like immigrants. We as Texans reject intolerance.”

Zedler shot back, “Do we in essence totally ignore the fact that the laws of the United States have been broken when it comes to immigration? I don't think so.”

The current law, signed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2001, was backed by groups representing business, education, Latino and civil rights interests. The immigrants must have lived here at least three years and plan to become citizens.

Action on the bill was delayed after Noriega offered an amendment that would have gutted it, then lawmakers offered technical objections to the bill itself.

Merritt's technical objection, which derailed the bill, said that the analysis of the measure didn't match the legislation itself.

With legislative deadlines kicking in, Zedler said he couldn't resurrect the bill, but could add the issue as an amendment to another measure.

Austin Bureau reporters Janet Elliott and Gary Scharrer contributed to this report