Statement on behalf of the
American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital
Committee of the Whole
Council of the District of Columbia
Bill 21-0422, the “UDC DREAM Amendment Act of 2015”
Thursday, February 18, 2016
Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony on the Bill 21-422, the “UDC DREAM Amendment Act of 2015.” My name is Monica Hopkins-Maxwell and I am the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital (ACLU-DC). I am here today on behalf of our more than 3,000 members across all eight wards in the District of Columbia.
For 95 years, the ACLU has protected the rights of immigrants by ensuring equal protection and fairness under our laws. To this end, the ACLU has fought to preserve the option for states to enable all their students, regardless of immigration status, the ability to attend public universities at an affordable rate. Because of this bill’s critical role in promoting fundamental fairness in access to public higher education, we urge its swift passage.
By introducing this legislation, you have recognized that higher education is critical to young people achieving their fullest potential, and have made a policy choice to make our public university equally accessible to all students who have been educated in our local secondary schools. You have also recognized that a well-educated population leads to increased learning power and disposable incomes that stimulate economic growth in the District’s economy. With enactment of such equal education laws, the District will remove economic impediments to those high school graduates pursuing higher education and will prevent the penalization of children who were brought to the United States at a young age by their parents.
Students who stand to benefit from the UDC DREAM Amendment Act of 2015 are, by and large, talented high achievers. They grew up in the District of Columbia and overcame the odds to graduate from high school and secure admission to a public university. However, for most of these high school graduates, the door to higher education remains closed and locked because they cannot afford to attend a public university without in-state tuition. This bill will also benefit certain citizen children who attended high school in the District and graduated or obtained their GED here, and who are seeking to return to the District to pursue college. We welcome them back.
II. Expand Access to Higher Education
There are principal policy arguments for promoting access to public higher education for undocumented students. These arguments center on the economic and societal interests of the District, and on fundamental fairness. I will discuss each one in turn below.
Affordable college education for students who graduate from District of Columbia high schools furthers principles of fundamental fairness. Students who benefit from this bill are, by and large, talented high achievers. They grew up in the District and persevered against the odds to graduate from high school and secure admission to the University of the District of Columbia.
Reducing the cost of education at the University of the District of Columbia for the District of Columbia’s high school graduates promotes economic growth and increases opportunities. College graduates who are likely to remain in the District earn higher wages, and therefore generate significantly more in income, sales, and property taxes. Their increased earning power and disposable income stimulate growth in the state economy. A better educated population also increases competitiveness in the global economy.
Denying higher education access to the District of Columbia’s students means failing to capitalize on the District’s investment in their K-12 education. Many of the students already educated in the District’s K-12 public school system come from disadvantaged backgrounds and would not otherwise be able to the University of the District of Columbia without in-state tuition.
III. Other Jurisdictions
As of June 2014, at least seventeen states have laws permitting certain students who have attended and graduated from their primary and secondary schools to pay the same tuition as their classmates at public institutions of higher education. The states are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington. A majority of America’s undocumented immigrants live in these states, and several other jurisdictions, including the District of the Columbia, are considering a similar change. In addition, Rhode Island’s Board of Governors for Higher Education and the University of Hawaii’s Board of Regents voted to provide access to in-state tuition at the states’ public colleges and universities to certain students, regardless of their immigration status. The University of Michigan’s Board of Regents has adopted a similar policy for its campuses. In many of the states that have already done so, support has been strongly bipartisan and the vote overwhelmingly in favor of the bill.
All children living in the United States have the right to a free public education. And the Constitution requires that all kids be given equal educational opportunity no matter what their race, ethnic background, religion, or sex, or whether they are rich or poor, citizen or non-citizen. The ACLU supports the District of Columbia’s enactment of the UDC DREAM Amendment Act of 2015, as a matter of fairness for all those high-achieving students who graduated from District high schools and successfully gained admission to the University of the District of Columbia, often against remarkable odds. Because the UDC DREAM Amendment Act of 2015, will ensure that students have this option without encumbrance, the ACLU supports its passage.