A bill providing that American-born children of undocumented immigrants be eligible for in-state tuition at state-supported colleges and universities cleared the Senate Education Committee Wednesday on a 6-3 vote.
Senate Bill 2115 provides that students who’re still legally dependents of their parents would be classified as residents of Tennessee and charged in-state tuition if they’ve been in the state for at least one year prior to college admission and either graduated from a high school in the state or earned a Tennessee high school equivalency diploma.
During the hearing Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, questioned the fairness of the legislation. He suggested it would benefit one group that others cannot receive — favoring children of undocumented immigrants over the children of legal residents outside the state whose children may want to come to school here, or the children of parents who live here but have not established state residency.
“If we pass this, we’re going to be giving a benefit to people, where legal citizens don’t receive today,” said Hensley.
Hensley added that he believes the current system of treating illegal immigrants’ children the same as those students whose parents aren’t residents of Tennessee is fair and equitable.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, disagreed. “We’re not giving (students) a benefit. We’re taking away a penalty from them, a threshold that they can’t afford to go to school,” he said.
A related bill was rolled for two weeks because of a drafting error. Senate Bill 1951 would grant in-state tuition costs to undocumented alien students who live in Tennessee and who meet the academic standards of the HOPE scholarship and who have attended Tennessee schools for five years prior to graduating from high school.