From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Senate fails bill to allow undocumented immigrants in-state tuition.

In Education on 30 March 2009 at 4:51 pm

Sen. Joyce Elliott’s bill to allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition failed the Senate by five votes this afternoon in the face of legal concerns and opposition from the governor. The bill would have allowed any child to go to college at in-state rates as long as the child attended an Arkansas high school for three years and graduated. The three-year period would apply whether the child were born in Denver, Mexico City or Vladivostok.

In addition to the nativist element represented by groups such as Secure Arkansas, opposition came from lawmakers who believe that Sen. Elliott’s bill violates a federal statute and would involve the state in costly litigation. (For more on this argument, see my earlier post.) In comments he gave on the floor against the bill, Sen. Jerry Taylor said Gov. Beebe told him the bill was illegal.

Sen. Hank Wilkins, speaking for the bill, argued that it is the Senate’s job to make laws, not to predict whether a court will strike them down in the future.

To date, a California state court is the highest to rule that a law similar to Sen. Elliott’s violates federal statute. In 2007 a federal appeals court rejected an argument against a similar Kansas law because the plaintiffs failed to show proper standing.

The majority of the speakers for the bill this afternoon made a moral appeal to their fellow lawmakers. Sen. Elliot argued, as she did in committee, that the state cannot afford to deny its people an education. Sen. Jimmy Jeffress quoted Leviticus 19: 33-34 in giving the most emotional testimony of the afternoon. The Bible reference appeared to be enough to convince Sen. Randy Laverty, who favorably compared the bill to Jimmy Carter’s decision to return the Panama Canal to the Panamanians. He said he would vote for Sen. Elliott’s bill even though he would “catch hell at home” for it. He confessed that his yes vote was easier than it might be otherwise because he is currently term-limited.

Though the speeches for the bill may have convinced one or two senators to change how they voted, the bill failed with very few comments from those who voted no. Sen. Taylor and Sen. Denny Altes made brief statements in opposition.

After the bill failed, Sen. Elliott managed to secure a motion to expunge the vote. That means she can bring the bill up again later in the session if she so chooses.

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