Dream Act causes tension at capitol

Courtney Blanchard

As the Legislature prepares to take its session break, Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty threatened to veto higher education funding legislation if it includes the Dream Act.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate added provisions to both omnibus funding bills that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Minnesota schools under certain conditions. Known as the Dream Act, the law has incited controversy among legislators.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, included the Dream Act in her Senate funding bill. As the chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, she said she estimated the law would affect about 500 students in the state who would otherwise be unable to afford college.

Pappas said the result is that those students are not attending college because they can’t afford it and end up in the “underground economy.”

“We can’t afford to lose the talents and skills of anyone in our state,” she said.

Undocumented students are allowed to attend most higher education institutions but must pay the out-of-state tuition rates. At the University, that amounts to $11,630 more per year than Minnesota residents pay.

If a student attends a Minnesota high school for at least three years, he or she would be eligible for in-state tuition even if undocumented, according to the proposal.

A lot of the controversy over the Dream Act stems from questions about funding and the process of becoming a citizen.

Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, suggested that those who are not in the country legally can gain citizenship by serving in the military. After that, they would be eligible to continue their educations with in-state tuition rates.

“I don’t know why the Dream Act is required,” he said. “There’s the military option.”

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R- Alexandria, said he’s concerned that tax money would pay for part of undocumented students’ educations if the state were to grant undocumented students resident tuition rates.

“We should not be paying for those who are not here legally,” he said.

University spokesperson Dan Wolter said he didn’t know how the law would impact the University financially, but guessed that because the difference between resident and nonresident rates is so high, the University probably wouldn’t lose money because it would attract students who wouldn’t have attended college previously.

However, the University does not have an official position on the Dream Act.

“I think it’s fair to say that there is a lot of interest in the issue and sympathy for the cause within the University,” Wolter said. “This is an institution dedicated to expanding educational opportunities, not restricting them.”

One of the Dream Act’s most outspoken critics is the governor.

“The governor is opposed to providing in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants and said he would veto legislation that contains that provision,” Pawlenty spokesperson Brian McClung said.

Several Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate warned of a veto.

House Higher Education and Workforce Development Policy and Finance Division Committee Chair Tom Rukavina, DFL- Virginia, said the governor might just be bluffing.

“The governor is not the king; he’s the governor,” he said. “In that regard, he has to negotiate a little bit.”

Rukavina said even if the House and Senate don’t pull enough votes together to override a veto, they could return a version of the bill without the Dream Act to the governor.

But Rukavina said he hopes that won’t happen.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand (the act),” he said. “But sometimes the truth is hard to get out to the public.”

The House and Senate would each need a two-thirds vote to override a veto. If all the Democrats voted to override, five Republicans in the House and one Republican Senator would need to join.