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Virginia mulls in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants

It is the American motto – the premise the country takes pride in: If you work hard, you can accomplish anything, be anything. But for some who consider themselves Americans, the rule does not apply.

Undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children face an obstacle when trying to accomplish their educational goals. When they graduate from high school, they must pay out-of-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities — a difficult feat since they usually don't qualify for financial aid programs either.

“It becomes part of the expectation for young immigrants that they won’t be able to go to college,” said Robert G. Templin Jr., president of Northern Virginia Community College.

Six bills – two in the Senate and four in the House – seek to change Virginia law so that undocumented immigrants meeting certain criteria would be able to pay in-state college tuition.

“If these bills are passed, it would be a positive impact on the Hispanic community,” said Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, chairman of the Virginia Coalition of Latino Organizations. “It would allow immigrants who came to this country to pursue a higher education.”

The state legislation parallels a federal proposal called the DREAM Act, an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.

After the act failed in Congress, President Obama last summer established a program to award “deferred action” status to certain individuals who immigrated illegally to the United States as children.

Immigrants can qualify if they entered the U.S. before age 16, are now under 30 and have lived in the country for at least five years. They must have a high school diploma or GED (or be in the process of getting one), or have been honorably discharged by the U.S. military. They must also have a clean criminal record and not be deemed a threat to public safety or national security.

As of Friday, the federal government has approved more than 150,000 young immigrants for “deferred action.” This protects them from deportation and allows them to work legally in the U.S.

The six bills before the Virginia General Assembly fall into two categories: those that do not require an undocumented student to have been approved for deferred action, and those that do.

All of the bills require the undocumented immigrants to have graduated from a public or private high school or have received their GED in Virginia. Moreover, the student or a parent or guardian must have filed Virginia income tax returns, unless exempted by state law.

Delegate Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, is sponsoring two of the House bills. For him, the issue is personal: He is the son of a Venezuelan immigrant.

“My mom touched countless lives because of her advocacy on this issue, so I promised this would be the first bill I put in my first year (as a delegate) and the first bill I put in this year,” said Lopez, who was elected in November 2011. “I’ll keep putting this bill in every year until it becomes a law in Virginia.”

Templin estimates that 200 undocumented students attend NOVA Community College. He speculated that the number might reach 1,000 if such immigrants could qualify for in-state tuition.

“It is a little uncertain because we don’t know exactly how many undocumented students there are,” Templin said.

Aranda-Yanoc said the bills under consideration could help thousands of students in the state. About 38,000 young immigrants in Virginia might be eligible for deferred action, officials estimate.

Allowing such students to pay in-state college tuition in Virginia would have little if any financial impact on the commonwealth, according to an analysis of the legislation by the state Department of Planning and Budgeting.

Lopez believes that the bills would be helpful for undocumented students and a huge step for the immigrant population as a whole.

“It doesn’t make moral and ... economic sense for us to be investing in these children’s education and having these incredible students not be able to continue their education,” he said.

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee will hold a hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday on the four House proposals. The Higher Education and Arts Subcommittee will meet in the Eighth Floor West conference room in the General Assembly Building, 201 N. Ninth St.

The Senate bills have been assigned to the Senate Education and Health Committee.


Community

Varina Ruritans honor students

The Varina Ruritan Club hosted the winners of its 2014 Environmental Essay contest at its monthly meeting March 11 in Varina.

The contest, in its eighth year, was for the first time open to students in grades 3-5 at Varina Elementary School. (It previously was open to Sandston Elementary School students.)

The meeting included the winners, parents of the winners, Varina Elementary principal Mark Tyler and several teachers who were in charge of the contest at the school. > Read more.

Baseball game to benefit Glen Allen Buddy Ball


For the fifth consecutive year, St. Christopher’s and Benedictine will play a varsity baseball game at Glen Allen's RF&P Park as part of a fundraising effort for the River City Buddy Ball program.

The game will take place Saturday, April 12, at 7 p.m., and the teams hope to raise $3,000 through donations, raffles and other efforts. Admission to the game is free, but fans who attend are asked to donate funds for the Glen Allen Youth Athletic Association's Buddy Ball program, which enables disabled children and teens to play baseball. > Read more.

Highland Springs field to be dedicated in honor of longtime coach Spears

The Henrico Division of Recreation and Parks will dedicate the Highland Springs Little League Majors Field in memory and honor of Rev. Robert “Bob” L. Spears, Jr., on April 12 with a ceremony at the field at 8 a.m.

Spears served the league as a coach and volunteer for 30 years and was praised as a pioneer for equality. His “Finish strong” motto embodied ethical perseverance on the field and in life. > Read more.

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Entertainment

A fun, fuzzy ride

‘Muppets Most Wanted’ worthy of its franchise

Do Muppets sleep? It’s hard to say.

They don’t really eat (or breathe, as far as anyone can tell). And only occasionally do they have visible, functioning legs.

As far as anyone knows, sleeping might be off the table. And that makes it very hard to accuse the Muppets of sleepwalking through their latest feature, Muppets Most Wanted – even if that’s exactly what’s going on.

Jim Henson’s beloved creations were back in a big way after 2011’s The Muppets, with fame and fortune and even an Oscar, a first for the group (“Rainbow Connection” was nominated, yet somehow failed to collect at the ’79 ceremony). > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


There’s no excuse for kids and families to not get out of the house this weekend! The Armour House and Gardens has an “Egg-celent Egg-venture” planned and Reynolds Community College will host the Reynolds Family Palooza. If you’re looking to give back to your community, Dorey Park will host Walk Like MADD and coordinators2inc will present the annual Kids Walk for Kids. And a special event for children with special needs will be on Sunday – the Caring Bunny will be at Virginia Center Commons. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

A new meaning for fried chicken

Is it heresy to say – in this bastion-of-tradition capital of the Old South – that it's time for Southern fried chicken to take a step back and make way for a new fried chicken king?

Count me among the new believers bowing to Bonchon Chicken's delectable double-fried bliss. Hand-brushed with signature garlic soy or hot sauce, flash-fried once and then again, the decadent drums and wings take "crisp" to a new level. If you're eating with a crowd and everyone bites in at once, be warned: you might need ear plugs to handle the din. > Read more.

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