Posted by Laura Kellams on June 15th 2012
President Obama's announcement today of a new federal policy to stop deportations of law-abiding undocumented young people is welcome news in Arkansas, where activists have long fought for a state-level version of the DREAM Act that would make college education a reality for undocumented Arkansas high school graduates.
While the new federal policy accomplishes much of what activists have fought for at the federal level, it only underscores the need for an Arkansas DREAM Act that would allow undocumented Arkansas high school graduates to pay in-state tuition prices at public colleges and universities. State lawmakers have repeatedly introduced legislation that would allow undocumented high school graduates to pay the same price for college as other state residents, rather than paying triple (or more) the cost for out-of-state tuition. First championed by Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2005, the legislation has never passed. In 2005, it failed by only one vote in the Senate after passing the House.
The Obama administration's announcement is a major step toward providing opportunity for these young people, many of whom consider themselves American and know no other life than growing up here in Arkansas. As reported today, the new federal policy bypasses Congress and allows work permits for undocumented young people who meet certain requirements. It doesn't change Arkansas's own higher-education policy, however. Now, we should take the next step and level the playing field for college education here.
Our state needs more college graduates, as we continue to rank at the bottom in rankings of states by the percentage of bachelor's degrees. Thirteen states have similar state versions of the DREAM Act, including Texas. If Texas can open the door to higher education to all high school graduates, why not Arkansas?