PolitiFact: Promise to change immigrant tuition law goes broken

Dec 17, 2017
Gov. Greg Abbott

Greg Abbott ran for Texas governor signaling he’d go along with disconnecting a political tripwire for Republicans that benefits college students from Texas living in the United States without legal permission.

We decided to put Abbott’s statements about in-state tuition for such Texans to the PolitiFact Texas Abbott-O-Meter, which tracks action on his campaign vows.

We’ve been writing about the law authorizing in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrant students, sometimes called Dreamers, since 2010. Under the law, such immigrants who earn a Texas high school diploma or GED and have lived in Texas for at least three years may qualify for in-state tuition if they sign an affidavit saying they intend to apply for permanent residency as soon as they can. In 2015, the latest year of available data, 24,982 Texas college students benefited from the law, about 1.5 percent of students attending the state’s public institutions of higher education, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board reported.

Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2001 signed into law the Democratic-authored proposal, which made it to Perry with scant opposition. In 2011, however, Perry lost steam running for president when foes challenged his defense of the law. Four years later, Perry revealed that he had no position on legislators possibly repealing the law — a shift of position that landed him a Half Flip rating on the PolitiFact Texas Flip-O-Meter.

Abbott while running for governor initially signaled he thought the law could be patched rather than trashed. In October 2013, according to a Dallas Morning News account, Matt Hirsch of Abbott’s campaign said: “Greg Abbott believes that the objective of the program is noble. But he believes the law as structured is flawed and it must be reformed.”

Hirsch didn’t say Abbott favored repealing the law. But Abbott said during a subsequent debate with Democratic nominee Wendy Davis that he wouldn’t veto a repeal of the law if such a proposal came to his desk as governor. As recapped by the Texas Tribune, the candidates on Sept. 30, 2014, “were asked about their views on the so-called Texas Dream Act, a law Texas adopted in 2001 that allows certain undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates while attending public universities in the state. While Davis said she would veto a repeal of the law,” the story said, “Abbott said he would not, which means he is putting some distance between himself and other Republicans” like Perry, the story said.

So, has the in-state tuition law been reformed or repealed during Abbott’s tenure as governor? No.

Abbott did not call for lawmakers in the 2015 and 2017 regular legislative sessions to revise or repeal the law though Republican legislators tried to do so.

In 2015, the Legislature didn’t agree on a measure repealing the 2001 law. News organizations including the Tribune noted that Sen. Donna Campbell’s repeal measure cleared a Senate committee but lacked sufficient support to win consideration by the full Senate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, later said repeal of the tuition law ranked among his personal priorities for the 2017 session.

Abbott, whose aides didn’t respond to our request for comment on this promise’s progress, didn’t mention the law in his January address to lawmakers — and we spotted no sign of a repeal proposal making headway in the 2017 session.

Rather, legislative records show that Campbell, R-New Braunfels, again filed a repeal measure, Senate Bill 2059, in March 2017; it was referred to a committee before dying without further action. Other repeal efforts — House Bills 393, 753 and 767 — were each filed and referred to a committee without drawing consideration, records indicate.

With no action of the sort that Abbott discussed during his campaign for governor, we rate this as a Promise Broken.