Government & Politics

Missouri budgeters lift in-state college tuition ban for undocumented ‘Dreamers’

Missouri Gov. Parson outlines priorities in State of the State address

Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.
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Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.

“Dreamers” accepted into Missouri colleges or universities are eligible for in-state tuition after lawmakers decided on Tuesday to strip a four-year-old ban from the state budget.

Since 2015, undocumented immigrants brought to the United States at a young age and protected under DACA (Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals), also known as Dreamers, have had to pay international tuition rates to attend Missouri schools.

The Missouri Senate has stripped the ban from budget for the last two years, only to see it put back later in the process. This time it was eliminated by Senate and House members during a conference committee under a compromise that left in place a prohibition on scholarships.

“This is a compromise trying to advance half of the loaf,” said Missouri Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, who taught young undocumented students as a public school teacher.

“These kids are as American as anyone else without a piece of paper that says so,” he said. “What they are doing now is going to Kansas or Arkansas or Illinois -- they are leaving our state.”

New American Economy, an immigration advocacy organization, estimates 7,542 DACA-eligible immigrants live in Missouri.

Initially, Missouri House Budget Chair Cody Smith, R-Carthage, moved to retain the in-state tuition ban. He argued that the state dollars shouldn’t go to undocumented immigrants.

“I would argue that the line of folks with unlawful status is longer than the availability for what we can afford in in-state tuition,” Smith said.

Republican senators, Sen. Lincoln Hough and Sen. Mike Cunningham, spoke up in favor of Holsman’s compromise.

“What are we are doing is giving (the universities) the freedom to make the determination of what it’s in the best interest of their school without penalty from the state,” Holsman said.

Six of the 10 members of the joint budget conference committee spoke in favor of the eliminating the ban.

DACA, an Obama-era policy implemented in 2012, protects immigrants who came to United States illegally before age 16 from deportation. While they are granted a work permit and can apply for a Social Security number, the program does not provide a path to citizenship. Litigation challenging the program is ongoing.

Missouri budget bills need one more vote before heading to the governor for approval. Lawmakers are required to pass a state budget by May 10.

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Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.
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