Last week, almost 50 local high school and college students piled into a bus and headed out of town. This was no spring break beach vacation or field trip, though: The goals were purely political. The teenagers went to Austin to oppose proposals to repeal a law that allows qualified undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Texas universities.
About 80 students spoke late last Thursday before the House State Affairs Committee, which was considering a bill sponsored by Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, that would let only legal residents get in-state tuition. The landmark 2001 law under fire was authored by Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, and prompted other states to pass similar measures. While Riddle and other opponents of the tuition law say it’s unfair for illegal immigrants to get a deal on higher education, supporters argue that given Texas’s large number of undocumented teens who came here as young children, giving the skilled and ambitious ones access to college is just as logical economically as it is socially.
“My girlfriend just got accepted to the University of Texas at Austin, and she’d only be able to attend under the Noriega law because she’s undocumented,” Manuel Rendon, Texas youth director for the League of United Latin American Citizens and a 19-year-old freshman at Collin County Community College, tells Unfair Park. “It’s really important to the state of Texas because Hispanics have such a high dropout rate. I think if this law were removed, it would be much higher. These kids aren’t going to graduate high school and go back to Mexico. They're gonna stay here, and unfortunately, they’re going to be looking for jobs at Wendy’s and McDonalds rather than becoming doctors and lawyers.”
Rendon himself was born in Oklahoma, but he dedicates hours each week to what he considers one of the most important civil rights fights of his generation. Next week, he’s off to his home state to fight a collection of anti-illegal immigrant bills.
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“All the bills we’re fighting in Texas have been passed in Oklahoma, and they’re at the governor’s desk,” he says. One Oklahoma measure would be among the most restrictive in the country -- it aims to bar illegal immigrants from jobs and benefits, and allow state and local law enforcement to detain them for their presence in the U.S. --Megan Feldman