by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
The Democratic-led Senate passed so-called Dream Act legislation on Wednesday, May 1.
The bipartisan action came the same day as hundreds paraded to the State Capitol to rally for passage, as well as immigration reform.
The Dream Act, which has not advanced in the Democratic-led House, permits undocumented students who have graduated from Minnesota high schools to qualify for less expensive, instate college tuition. It also permits them to apply for financial aid.
An estimated 751 Minnesota postsecondary students will benefit from the legislation, according to the Office of Higher Education. Of these, 666 will be undergraduate students and 85 will be graduate students, the office estimates.
“They want to be Americans,” Sen. Sandra Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, Senate bill author, said of the students.
To qualify for instate tuition, students need to have attended high school in the state for at least three years and graduated or attained the equivalent of a high school diploma.
“We’re not changing immigration laws,” Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina, said during floor debate.
University of Minnesota and Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) officials have indicated their institutions would absorb Dream Act costs.
Republicans tried amending the bill twice on the Senate floor.
Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, offered an amendment delaying the implementation of the Dream Act until after the federal government achieved immigration reform. In Senate committee, Ortman said she believed Congress and President Barack Obama would soon reach an agreement. On the Senate floor, she described the Dream Act as “premature.”
But Pappas countered, saying people know how the federal government works.
“We’re tired of waiting,” she said.
Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, argued the legislation offered almost a “false promise.” Supporters talk about jobs, but even should undocumented students obtain degrees, they can’t work legally, he said.
His argument was a kind of catch-22, Pappas said. That is, undocumented students, if they complete their education, may not be able to work legally without immigration reform. But conversely, if they don’t complete their education, they won’t a find a good job should the opportunity arise, Pappas said.
The Republicans amendments failed, with the Dream Act passing the Senate on a 41-23 vote. Four Republican joined Democrats in voting for the bill.
Speaking after the floor action, Pappas said the Dream Act legislation would be part of conference committee discussions with the House. The House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee heard Dream Act legislation, but did not take any action.
The Dream Act has previously passed the Senate — Pappas has championed the legislation for years.
According to Senate Democrats, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce supports the Dream Act.
Knowing exactly how many undocumented immigrants are in Minnesota is difficult. A 2011 Pew Research Center study suggests undocumented immigrants make up about 2 percent, or 60,000, of Minnesota’s labor force.
Besides attending high school in Minnesota and graduating, undocumented students, to qualify for instate tuition, must provide evidence of filing with Selective Service under the bill. Additionally, they must provide evidence of applying for lawful immigration status should the federal government provide one.
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]