Several of his colleagues consoled a tearful state Rep. Kasey Carpenter Wednesday afternoon after his bill designed to let some undocumented immigrants pay in-state-tuition at Georgia universities failed to make it to a vote.
The Dalton Republican’s House Bill 997 now is now set to miss Thursday’s Crossover Day deadline. Carpenter clearly thought the bipartisan support for his plan to make college more affordable to Georgians in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program provided enough political will to earn broader consideration. Georgia’s 21,000 so-called Dreamers will continue paying three times the tuition that their fellow Georgia high school graduates pay to attend some of the state’s colleges and universities.
House Higher Education Committee Chairman Chuck Martin declined to let his panel vote on Carpenter’s bill because of an ongoing legal challenge. The fate of the Obama-era program that temporarily blocked deportations is expected to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court late this spring. President Donald Trump ended the DACA program in 2017 and court challenges reached the high court last fall.
“I want to be careful that in trying to do this again that the House Higher Education Committee does not create immigration policy on the fly,” said Martin, an Alpharetta Republican.
The lack of a vote dealt a blow to Carpenter, a Dalton restaurant owner. He said his bill addresses federal law because in-state tuition wouldn’t be available to DACA-eligible students if they’re not legally allowed to be present in the U.S.
“We’ve got these folks that are working and living in our communities, they’re driving cars in our communities, they’re paying taxes in our community, sales tax and income taxes,” Carpenter said. “We’ve invested $100,000 in these folks’ education so far. Why not invest a little bit more, so that they can attain higher paying jobs.”
Christian Olvera said he was hoping to not face high bills to finish college. Olvera has permission to legally work in Georgia as part of the DACA program.
The 28-year-old, who was brought to Georgia from Mexico as a child, juggles several jobs while attending Dalton State College.
A Georgia resident pays $3,683 in tuition and fees to attend Dalton State compared to about $10,500 for out-of-state tuition.
“I would like to see equality for everybody,” Olvera, a Dalton High School graduate, said following Wednesday’s meeting. “I didn’t do anything to get myself in this position. I’m just the same as any other Georgians around here except on paper so I think I deserve to have the opportunity to do the in-state tuition.”
Rep. Pat Gardner, a Democrat from Atlanta, said she appreciated the bipartisan support of a bill.
“I’m terribly disappointed that we didn’t have a chance to vote on this because we need to make these educational opportunities available to young people who have gone through our public system and deserve to get higher education,” she said.