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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

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

The Boathouse to open at Short Pump Town Center

The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.

“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”

The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.

Getting a ‘mouf’-ful

Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.

Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?

Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.

Lakeside microbrewery beginning to take shape

Original Gravity gets the green light to move forward with relocation, expansion into larger space

A Lakeside home-brewing shop has felt the gravitational pull toward the booming craft beer scene.

Original Gravity, a shop that sells beer and wine kits for homebrewers, has just been given the green light to start work on a microbrewery.

Owner Tony Ammendolia is expanding his 1,000-square-foot shop in Lakeside Town Center to 5,000-square-foot digs a few doors down to add a brewery and expand his supplies.

Ammendolia opened the home-brew supply store in November 2011 and since then he said business has taken off.

“I think I outgrew this place in the first year,” Ammendolia said. “We’ve seen steady growth and I’ve been looking for a place to expand to move the shop to get more square footage.” > Read more.

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The Pocahontas Chapter of the Virginia Native Plant Society will hold its monthly meeting at 7 p.m. at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, 1800 Lakeside Ave. Artist Emily Herr will describe… Full text

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