Virginia has joined a list of states that will give in-state tuition access to immigrant youth who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, the state’s Attorney General announced Tuesday.
The policy change makes earning a college degree more affordable and affects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children and now live in the state, according to Dreamers of Virginia, an immigration group which hailed the change. DACA students are often referred to as “DREAMers.”
“This victory for the immigrant community caps off a hard-fought campaign,” the group, which is affiliated with United We Dream, and supporters said in a statement.
Dayana Torres, a DACA student who attends George Mason University, said she considers Virginia to be her home. She has lived in the state for 10 years.
“I have seen incredible potential become a shadow of what it could be due to a student’s inability to pay hefty out-of-state tuition, in addition to having financial responsibilities at home and having to work several jobs,” the computer science student and Dreamers of Virginia president said.
“Today’s decision is one that will only further motivate those in our community to achieve academic excellence.”
Lower tuition rates for DREAMers will help Virginia remain economically competitive, as well as assist its residents in reaching their potential, state Attorney General Mark Herring said in a statement.
“These ‘DREAMers’ are already Virginians in some very important ways. In most cases, they were raised here, they graduated from Virginia schools,” he said.
“Instead of punishing and placing limits on these smart, talented, hard-working young people, Virginia should extend them an opportunity for an affordable education. It’s what the law requires.”
As of December 2013, the state had about 8,100 DACA students. Young people who are “lawfully present” in Virginia, under DACA, are eligible to attend its universities, colleges and community colleges so long as they meet the qualifications.
To date, 19 states have passed some type of in-state tuition legislation for DACA youth, Herring’s office reported. Graduation rates among Latinos in Maryland have increased, the office said, because of the lower tuition rates.
In-state tuition – which is often called “Tuition Equity” – shifts to Florida where the state Senate is expected on Thursday to consider a similar bill. Lawmakers have until Friday to consider the legislation, Florida Immigrant Coalition, which supports in-state tuition, said.
In March, lawmakers in the Florida state House of Representatives approved “Tuition Equity” legislation. Some senators in Florida oppose “Tuition Equity” because they say in-state rates should apply to legal residents of the state.
United We Dream is a nonpartisan network of affiliates and the largest immigrant, youth-led organization in the country.