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Senate passes DACA student tuition bill

The Oregon Senate passed a bill Monday distancing state policy from federal uncertainty surrounding the fate of student DACA recipients.

If the Oregon House concurs with Senate Bill 1563, DACA recipients won't have to present federal identification in order to be eligible for nonresident tuition at state universities. It also would allow public universities, the Higher Education Coordinating Commission and Oregon Health and Science University to offer scholarships, grants or financial aid to students who are not citizens or who lack permanent residency.

The bill passed the Senate by a 17-10-3 majority. District 3 Sen. Alan DeBoer, R-Ashland, voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr., R-Grants Pass, voted against it.

Noncitizen students in Oregon already have been eligible for exemption from nonresident tuition at public higher education institutions since 2013, when the Legislature passed HB 2787. That was a year after President Barack Obama directed the Department of Homeland Security to create the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented people who were brought to the U.S. as children younger than 16, and who were younger than 31 at that time, to work, attend schools and defer deportation for two-year renewable periods. They're commonly referred to as "Dreamers."

In September, the Justice Department announced that President Donald Trump's administration had decided to end the program, setting a deadline of Oct. 5 for current recipients to renew their permits and a March 5 deadline for Congress to salvage any part of DACA legislatively. Although a federal judge in California blocked the move by the Trump administration, ordering U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to continue receiving renewal applications, no legislation has been passed regarding DACA. With the deadline now 13 days away, the status of Dreamers remains uncertain.

SB 1563 removes language in the existing statute requiring proof that students have applied for federal identification, such as a Social Security number or taxpayer identification number, to be eligible for nonresident tuition exemptions. Sen. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, a primary sponsor of the bill, said in a press release, "according to the state’s leading immigration attorneys, our connection with federal regulations puts Dreamers at risk."

Linda Schott, president of Southern Oregon University, has said the university will fight to keep its handful of DACA students at the university. She also joined the Presidents' Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, which said it supports "policies that create a welcoming environment for immigrant, undocumented and international students on our campuses."

Baertschiger, however, said that Senate Democrats had played "inside baseball," promising in 2013 not to include grants in any future reforms (this bill includes grants). He also opposes a provision in the law and the bill that allows undocumented students coming from other states to be eligible for financial aid.

"The solution to all this controversy is a comprehensive immigration policy, and that's got to come from the feds," he said. "We do have countries, we do have borders and we do have rules."

DeBoer was not available for comment Monday afternoon.

The bill will now go the House for a vote. If passed, it will contain an emergency clause, making it effective immediately.

— Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or ktornay@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ka_tornay.