The pursuit of a college education is fueling a renewed fight over illegal immigration. House Bill 1992 would allow undocumented students who have attended Tennessee schools for five years and meet the requirements of the HOPE scholarship to pay in-state tuition rates.
"I enrolled in community college," said undocumented student Cesar Bautista. "After a year and a half, I had to drop out because of the tuition rates."
"I graduated Glencliff High School last year," said undocumented student Jazmin Ramirez. "I have three younger siblings. My parents cannot afford to help with college tuition at all."
Speaking from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, Bautista and Ramirez said they've been taught it takes a good education to fulfill their dreams.
"My goal is to become a U.S. congressman," said Bautista.
"I want to major in business administration," added Ramirez.
Bautista and Ramirez aren't eligible for in-state tuition, meaning their tuition rates are nearly triple.
"Once we're ready, they clip our wings," said Bautista.
Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, said he's hoping to change that by sponsoring the bill.
"It doesn't give them in-state tuition," said Floyd. "They are only allowed to pay in-state tuition. It doesn't cost the state of Tennessee one red penny. They'd be paying into the system $54,000 a year versus being a drain on the system."
Floyd said the bill is just good business sense and will lead to a more educated workforce.
As bills soon face House and Senate committees, some lawmakers argue it encourages cheating the system.
"What it's doing is rewarding people for illegal activity," said Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. "What they want to do is give a benefit to people when we don't give the same benefit to people who are here legally and are from Kentucky."
Ramirez and Bautista said a better future for themselves rides on these bills.
"If I graduate, I make my family proud," said Bautista. "I make my community proud."
"Every time a student pays in-state tuition, our state makes money," said Eben Cathey of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition. "In-state tuition is a fair price and every student that wants to go to college deserves to pay a fair price for education."
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