Students tackle anti-immigrant bills

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Note: This is the second in a three-part series examining what student organizations are doing to lobby the 82nd Texas Legislature.

University Leadership Initiative, a UT group that supports the rights of undocumented students, will work this semester to defeat more than 25 bills they say target undocumented immigrants.

The group will join other immigrant activist groups at the Capitol Tuesday to lobby against two specific bills.

ULI will focus on education issues that directly impact undocumented students in Texas. State Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt, R-Lexington, filed one of the house bills the group will target that could require undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition, and State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Tomball, filed the second bill that could require public schools to take a head count of all undocumented students.
The point of the head count bill is to give clarity to how much public education for illegal immigrants is costing the state, said Jon English, Riddle’s chief of staff.

“The cost of illegal immigration is obviously a central focus in the illegal immigration debate, but there are nothing but a bunch of guesses as to how much money, in terms of tax dollars, the state of Texas is spending on services to illegal immigrants,” he said.

English said the bill is not intended to affect the number of undocumented students in public schools, but to record them and make the numbers available.

“We aren’t hoping to deter anybody from attending, but we do want to know how many are showing up,” he said. “The head count will give some transparency to those numbers and I think that would better inform the immigration debate.”

ULI is a group of students, both documented and undocumented, who advocate civil justice and education for the immigrant community, said Daniel Olvera, a ULI spokeswoman and government senior.

“We fight not only for us but for generations of students because their future and our future is in jeopardy,” he said. “All these anti-immigrant laws will just make it harder for our community to live.”
Last semester, the group worked to pass the DREAM Act, a U.S. bill that would have granted citizenship to undocumented students who completed college or joined the military. The bill ultimately failed in the U.S. Senate.

“Even though it didn’t pass, we saw how it empowered our community, to be proud and to fight for our rights, so we felt successful,” Olvera said.

Olvera said according to lawmakers the head count bill seems beneficial because taxpayers will know where their money is being spent, but it will be a burden to the public schools and
undocumented students.

“This unfunded mandate is not logical. It seems like a harmless law but it singles out our community,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a wise law from an economic standpoint or a social standpoint.”

ULI is considering weekly trips to the Capitol, sending out information packets to media outlets and teaming up with other immigrant activist groups across the state.

ULI President Loren Campos said the head count bill could cause undocumented students’ parents to see public schools as an arm of immigration officials and cause them to shy away.

“If this bill passes, a lot of parents are going to perceive schools as immigration enforcement agencies,” he said. “They are going to feel targeted and so this bill would damage the relationship between parents, teachers and students.”

ULI will team with North Texas DREAM Team, Dreamactivist.org, South Texas Immigration Council and more than 20 other immigration rights organizations to continue lobbying throughout the semester.

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Other anti-illegal immigration laws University Leadership will lobby against include:

HB 113 concerning sanctuary cities
HB 16 Relating to requiring a voter to present proof of identification
HB 21 Relating to reporting by state agencies on the financial effect of providing services to illegal immigrants
HB 494 Relating to the eligibility requirements for certain public benefits programs