In Florida, the House is expected to vote today on one of many bills that would allow undocumented residents to pay the same tuition rates as other Florida students. On Tuesday, a Senate education committee narrowly approved a similar in-state tuition bill for undocumented residents. Republicans are divided on the issue, and the governor – who vetoed a 2013 bill providing temporary driver’s licenses to DACA recipients – last week declared his support for the Senate in-state tuition bill.
On Monday, the New York Senate voted down a bill that would have expanded access to higher education for undocumented residents. If passed, New York would have become the fifth state to offer state-funded financial aid to students without legal status. It’s already one of sixteen states that provide in-state tuition to undocumented state residents. Numbers USA supported the NY Senate decision in a misleading tweet yesterday.
In Florida, the anti-immigrant movement has been vocal in its opposition to in-state tuition. Floridians for Immigration Enforcement (FLIMEN) calls in-state tuition “an assault” and calls on Floridians to “smash Florida college tuition subsidies for illegal aliens.” The group recently published talking points for opposing the bill. They acknowledge the difficulty of estimating both the cost of college access and the number of students who would benefit, but encourage supporters to make up numbers. One of the talking points was as follows:
“Ask the Representative, Senator or Governor how much it will cost to subsidize college tuition for illegal aliens. Throw out some numbers like, $50 million, $500 million, $1 billion.”
More broadly, the anti-immigrant movement has been trying to fight off legislation that would expand access to in-state tuition, driver’s licenses, or public benefits. While at this point they are unable halt immigration at the national level, they are pursuing an attrition-through-enforcement policy at the state level, trying to make immigrants’ lives as hard as possible. Their attempts to block inclusive state policies dovetail neatly with their attacks on DACA. In both cases, the nativist movement is using these debates at the state level to re-introduce anti-immigrant rhetoric, and position themselves to demonstrate state-level opposition to inclusive national policy. And they’re going after immigrant youth and their parents in the process.
When talking to their base, the anti-immigrant movement exposes some of its core motivations – anxieties about the changing racial demographics of the country and the national character, a desire for population control. Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, recently called immigration reform synonymous with “disintegration and decomposition,” and on a conservative blog derided those who had been granted deferred action:
“Talk about the soft bigotry of low expectations. If the half-million who’ve already benefited from this amnesty are the “high-achieving” portion of the illegal-alien population, what are the other 11 million like?”
It’s hard to miss the irony of the critique: By denying in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants in most states, government policy actively prevents immigrants from pursuing higher education.
Another favorite anti-immigrant talking point reveals underlying racial anxieties and attempts to derail inclusive policies by highlighting crimes committed by immigrants without status. The Social Contract, a journal founded and published by John Tanton, recently ran an entire issue on “Americans Killed by Illegal Aliens.” The lead article says “We are All Victims,” and a later article is titled “The Psychological Cost of Diversity.” The publication not only takes advantage of moments of tragedy and violence, but also conflates violent crime and murder with changing demographics and diversity. Recent statements by Jessica Vaughan of CIS make clear that the anti-immigrant movement continues to use this argument in response to the possibility of another administrative relief.
While most politicians and individuals shy away from such extreme rhetoric, a more insidious racism maintains and strengthens structural inequality, and fixes the rules of the game so that immigrants are barred from social, political and economic life. Such policies in word or practice bar immigrants from higher education, from health care, or from even driving on public roads. In addition to these exclusions, changes in federal law have further criminalized immigrants. The massive prison system, long a pillar of institutional racism in the US, is increasingly used to cage and expel immigrants.
Such policies have long been resisted by the communities they target. Immigrant youth have fought for tuition equality and access to higher education. A widespread coalition has come together to stop deportations that have devastated communities around the country. Protests and hunger strikes against draconian conditions and confinement in immigrant detention facilities continue today in Washington and Texas.
While the anti-immigrant movement is more explicit about its bigotry, the quieter bureaucratic exclusion of immigrants from basic services and educational access is just as devastating. Both must be unequivocally rejected.