Senate panel votes to override Va. attorney general on in-state tuition for immigrant students

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RICHMOND, Virginia — Legislation is advancing in the Virginia Senate to bar some immigrants from attending state colleges at in-state tuition rates.

On an 8-7 party-line vote Thursday, the Republican-controlled Education and Health Committee sent to the Senate floor a measure that would override a ruling last year by Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring. The ruling says some immigrants who were brought to the United States illegally as children can qualify for in-state tuition.

Thousands of such immigrants have been allowed to remain in the country under an Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

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 Herring's ruling was issued.

Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun County, the sponsor of the measure, said he believes students allowed to stay in the country under the DACA program 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.

But Senior Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Griffin said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ruled that DACA students are lawfully present in the United States. A state law contradicting that ruling could open the state up to a constitutional challenge, she said.

Black's bill drew opposition from a variety of speakers including three students dressed in graduation caps and gowns who said they would be forced to drop out of college if the measure becomes law.

"I can't imagine this General Assembly might trample on the dreams of young people who were raised in this state, followed the rules, went to school and want an education so they can give back to society," said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County.

Brian Coy, a spokesman for Gov. Terry McAuliffe, called Black's measure "counterproductive and mean-spirited" and said the governor would veto both that bill and an identical House measure introduced by Del. David Ramadan, R-Loudoun County, if passed.

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