(Editor's note: The following information is excerpted from a news release from the Office of the Virginia Attorney General.)
In a letter sent Tuesday morning to the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV), the presidents of Virginia's colleges and universities, and the chancellor of the Virginia Community College System, Attorney General Mark R. Herring advised that Virginia students who are lawfully present in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program qualify for in-state tuition, provided they meet Virginia's domicile requirements, according to a news release from Herring's office.
These students, often called "DREAMers," will still need to gain admission to an institution of higher education, maintain their DACA status, and meet the same domicile requirements as all other students, but the Attorney General has concluded that state law allows the Commonwealth to offer these young people in-state tuition rates that will help them reach their full potential and maximize their contributions to Virginia's economy, instead of minimizing their opportunities.
"If the Commonwealth is to remain competitive in a global economy, we must embrace a strategy that maximizes our talent pool and helps all Virginians reach their full potential," said Herring.
"These 'DREAMers' are already Virginians in some very important ways. In most cases they were raised here, they graduated from Virginia schools, and they have known no home but Virginia."
Nineteen states, including Texas, New Mexico, California, and Oklahoma have enacted some form of tuition equity at their public colleges and universities, speaking to its importance as an economic and competitiveness issue.
As of December 2013, approximately 8,100 young people in Virginia have had their applications for DACA approved. In order to qualify for in-state tuition, these Virginia students will have to satisfy several requirements. First, he or she must first be approved for DACA status, a process which sets rigorous standards to identify young people who arrived as children, had no say in their arrival process, and are now Virginians for all practical purposes.
These qualifications include age of arrival, length of residency in the United States, and important indicators of civic engagement, such as no serious criminal record, enrollment in school or graduation from a high school, receipt of a GED, or honorable discharge from the U.S. Military. Nationally, approximately 75 percent of DACA applicants have resided in the United States for more than 10 years and one-third were age five or younger at arrival.
Additionally, DACA students will have to be accepted by a Virginia college or university, just like any other Virginia student. Young people who are lawfully present in the United States because of DACA are currently eligible for admission to Virginia colleges, universities, and community colleges and this interpretation of the Virginia code will not change the admission process in any way.
Finally, all Virginia students, including DACA students, must prove they meet the Commonwealth's standard of Virginia domicile, generally established by meeting criteria including, but not limited to, continuous residence in Virginia for at least one year, intent to remain in Virginia indefinitely, paying Virginia state income taxes, receipt of a driver's license, employment in Virginia, ownership of property, or registration of a motor vehicle in Virginia.
This interpretation of the eligibility of DACA students for in-state tuition is similar to guidance given to public colleges and universities by then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell who advised that in-state tuition may be extended to persons in the United States under "Temporary Protected Status," granted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to those who cannot safely return to their nation of origin.
"The Chamber and the Northern Virginia business community have supported the Virginia DREAM Act because all Virginia students should have the same opportunity to attend college and become productive members of the workforce," said Jim Corcoran, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce. "We applaud the Attorney General and the legislators who have supported DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and the Virginia DREAM Act and we wholeheartedly welcome today's announcement. This helps to ensure that Virginia businesses can recruit and retain top talent here in the Commonwealth. In this ever-global economy, where businesses must compete on the world's stage regularly, it makes sense for Virginia to cultivate and educate their own students, rather than turn them away when they reach college age."
"One of the priorities of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (VAHCC) is developing a diverse and talented workforce to ensure the future economic vitality of Virginia," says Michel Zajur, VAHCC President and CEO. "With Attorney General Herring's recognition that DACA recipients are domiciled in Virginia, these talented students who gain admission to Virginia's institutions of higher education now have the opportunity to remain in Virginia and contribute to our economy and workforce."
"The actions by the Attorney General will allow DACA students to pursue their dreams," said Del. Tom Rust, who sponsored legislation in the General Assembly to help extend an affordable education to DACA students. "Most of these young people have been raised entirely in Virginia and attend Virginia schools. They deserve the opportunity to participate as Virginians in our world class institutions of public higher education. I am pleased that the legislation I introduced during the previous two sessions brought appropriate attention to this matter."
"I am extremely pleased that our Attorney General has determined that DACA students can be eligible for in-state tuition," said Sen. Donald McEachin, who carried a Senate bill for tuition equity. "As a Commonwealth, we want to ensure that all students who seek a higher education have a chance to attain it -- partly to help them become contributing, productive members of our communities, and partly because hardworking students simply deserve that opportunity. I am pleased that the Attorney General has joined me and my colleagues in working on this issue, and I am delighted to see our shared effort come to fruition."
"This is the right thing to do, not just from a moral perspective, but also from an economic development perspective," said Del. Alfonso Lopez.
"The importance of today's decision regarding in-state tuition qualification for those eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) extends far beyond those who are immediately impacted," said Dr. Robert G. Templin, president of Northern Virginia Community College. "It is a signal to all New Americans who live in Virginia that our state recognizes the importance of developing their talent for the benefit of all of Virginia, and values their potential contribution to our collective future.
"This is a historic day for our hard-working talented students and for those of us who have been fighting on their behalf," said Walter Tejada, Arlington County Board Member. "As someone who has worked at the local, state, and national level on these issues, I am proud of the action Attorney General Herring has taken and appreciate his careful consideration and analysis of the law."
"As an organizer for the undocumented immigrant movement, I have seen incredible potential become a shadow of what it could be due to a student's inability to pay hefty out-of state tuition, in addition to having financial responsibilities at home and often having to work several jobs," said Dayana Torres, president of Dreamers of Virginia and a Virginia student with DACA status currently attending George Mason University.