The staff editorial is the majority opinion of The Murray State News Editorial Board
It isn’t often our Editorial Board has a generally unanimous opinion on a topic, especially when we’re talking politics. But a new bill proposed by the Tennessee state legislature has us nodding our heads and applauding our Southern neighbor state.
The bill, which passed the Senate Education Committee with a 7-2 vote according to The Tennessean, would grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition for public state colleges and universities.
Currently, Tennessee law requires undocumented students living in the state to pay thousands more dollars per semester than their peers, which often leads to those students being unable to attend college or finish degrees.
The chief argument against the bill is that it is unfair for immigrants who have entered the country legally, and that it could encourage more illegal immigration because of its monetary benefits. While a legal immigrant and state resident has full access to federal grants and scholarships, though, the undocumented student does not. And if, after receiving a K-12 public education, their college education is made impossible because of outrageous tuition costs, that student suddenly has much less opportunity for employment that would benefit the state.
“We know that if more Tennesseans have a college degree, the whole state is better off,” said Sen. Todd Gardenhire to a reporter for Chalkbeat.org. “By allowing more Tennesseans to enroll in college, we can fill crucial labor shortages and expand the overall tax base.”
Because many undocumented students were brought into the country at a young age and are not responsible for choosing their residency, the opportunity of a college education may be the first milestone in their journeys to becoming American citizens. Immigrants cannot begin the naturalization process until they are 18 years of age, and the process can take years to complete. So, for a student who has graduated high school and wants to keep learning and gaining employment opportunities that may quicken their citizenship process, having that opportunity thwarted by out-of-state tuition costs could be detrimental.
If an immigrant has already been able to reap the benefits of a K-12 education and is fully prepared to begin college-level study with their peers, isn’t it counterproductive for the state to deny those students from easily obtaining an education?
Some critics of the bill claim it favors undocumented students over American students who would still pay out-of-state tuition if they resided in another state. But, we must ask what the alternative options are. If we want undocumented immigrants to be as educated, productive and informed as possible when it comes to obtaining citizenship, it’s illogical to then make a college education – something American students might take for granted – extremely difficult to pursue. If our goal as Americans is to integrate as many immigrants into our society as possible and lead them to legal residency, we must make education and employment opportunities more readily available to them.
If, however, our goal as Americans is to rid our communities of anyone who lacks a certain government-approved piece of paper, driving up college costs for immigrants is a grade-A plan.
If that is the attitude our citizens strive to propagate, perhaps our president will decorate his border-straddling wall with fine print on what “the land of opportunity” really means.