In a move directly countering Virginia’s Democratic attorney general, Republicans in the Virginia state Senate advanced a measure Thursday to bar some young illegal immigrants granted temporary amnesty from deportation from receiving in-state tuition rates.
The Senate Education and Health Committee, an 8-7 vote, passed the measure from Sen. Dick Black, Loudoun Republican, that says young adult illegal immigrants allowed to stay in the country under the federal government’s deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) program are not eligible for the reduced rates at the state’s colleges and universities.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s office called the bill “counterproductive and mean-spirited” and pledged a veto after the governor just a day earlier had called on the GOP-led legislature to formally approve legislation allowing the illegal immigrants to enroll at the reduced rates.
But the immediate counter by Republicans could portend further confrontations with Mr. McAuliffe over the course of the General Assembly’s 45-day session this year, his second in office.
Last April, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, advised the state’s colleges and universities that such young illegal immigrants did qualify for the reduced tuition rates under current law.
But Mr. Black said he believes students allowed to stay in the country under DACA are here illegally and should not be entitled to in-state tuition rates, which are thousands of dollars a year lower than out-of-state rates.
His resolution said that “absent congressional intent to the contrary,” the illegal immigrants granted protections cannot remain in Virginia indefinitely and therefore would not be eligible for in-state tuition.
In a statement, Mr. Herring reiterated that because students in the country under DACA are considered “lawfully present” by the federal government, the law allows the lower rates if they’ve earned admission, pointing to conclusions on the matter from then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
“Tuition equity has received bipartisan support as recently as last session, and I hope we will again see that spirit of fairness and compassion this session,” Mr. Herring said.
A spokesman for Mr. McAuliffe said the governor that he would veto the bill.
“He is focused on expanding economic opportunity to Virginians from all walks of life, not targeting some for discrimination,” spokesman Brian Coy said in an e-mail.
State Council of Higher Education for Virginia spokeswoman Kirsten Nelson told the committee 81 students have enrolled at Virginia four-year colleges at in-state rates in the nine months since Mr. Herring’s ruling was issued.
“If in-state tuition is no longer available, then I will not be able to transfer from Northern Virginia Community College to a four year university and will not be able to continue my education and obtain a career in medicine,” said Jackie Cortes Nava, an executive board member with the “Dreamers of Virginia” group.
Approximately 20 states, including Maryland, have enacted some form of in-state tuition program for so-called Dreamers.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.