Tuition bill for children of undocumented Tennessee workers likely to be back

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – A bill making college cheaper for Tennessee kids who have been called “The Dreamers” barely failed this past session for the second time in three years, but supporters say they are far from finished.

Those supporters–who include a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Republican Governor Bill Haslam–hope to find a way to give children of undocumented workers in-state tuition saving them thousands of dollars yearly.

“It’s a lot to take in to know that we were one vote away from being considered equal,” says Angelica Gonzalez, who came to this country from Mexico with her undocumented parents when she was eight.

They eventually settled in the Nashville suburb of La Vergne where she grew up and did well in school.

Tennessee law keeps her–and hundreds, if not thousands, like her– from getting in-state tuition and state scholarships because of her immigration status.

Angelica remembers dreams of being a bio-mechanical engineer dashed in high school after college recruiters came.

“I went home and I was like,’Dad I know where I want to go to school. This is what I want to be. And I was seventeen–a junior in high school–and he said, ‘Honey, you can’t do that,” Gonzalez said through tears.

“I had always known [about her undocumented parents], but I never realized how hindering it was going to be,” Gonzalez continued.

Many Tennessee lawmakers realized how hindering it might be to pay for kids like Gonzalez. For now, she takes one course a semester while working full time.

With children of undocumented workers watching every legislative step over the past five years, Tennessee lawmakers tried to pass what was called the Tuition Equality Act, where the students would receive the cheaper in-state tuition.

The bill failed by one vote in 2015 on the House floor. This past session it failed in a House Committee by one vote.

“People make it into an immigration issue, and it’s not. It’s about education,” says Gonzalez.

While sympathetic, many opponents have argued that illegal immigration does play a role and that the state should take care of its own citizens first.

The office of House sponsor Rep. Mark White, along with Governor Bill Haslam, have indicated they hope lawmakers have not given up on the bill.

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