Pennsylvania Dream Act bridges educational opportunity gap
Under new legislation, undocumented students would receive in-state tuition rates among other financial benefits
March 19, 2013, 11:00 pm·
Undocumented students in Pennsylvania are one step closer to having the same educational opportunities as citizens.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) introduced the Pennsylvania Dream Act, which would grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented students in Pennsylvania. Currently, undocumented students must pay out-of-state or international student tuition.
Additionally, the bill would provide the opportunity for undocumented students to receive financial aid through the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
“If you talk to the kids, their stories are quite compelling,” Smucker said. “These are kids who are brought here at an early age [and are] generally doing well in school.”
He added that the bill would place undocumented students and citizens on a more level playing field.
“They will need to apply, just as any other student, and be accepted based on their academic record and accomplishments,” Smucker said. “It’s not giving them anything any other students wouldn’t have.”
The bill applies to students attending state schools — such as Temple University and Penn State University — meaning Penn students wouldn’t be directly affected by it. Currently, the University is one of several private schools in the state to offer financial aid to undocumented students.
Immigrant rights groups praised the initiative, noting the importance of Smucker’s party affiliation.
“It’s very exciting, after the election results, that we’re seeing a Republican come forward and push something that’s so pro-immigrant,” said Natasha Kelemen, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, which worked with Smucker to craft the legislation. “We think it’s sending a very different message — even if the bill doesn’t pass, it really moves the debate around.”
Wharton junior Jose Gonzalez, executive director of Penn for Immigrant Rights, said in an email that the group is “always happy to see bills introduced that would help the immigrant community.” He added that being able to pay in-state tuition would relieve undocumented students of rates three or four times higher.
In addition to Smucker, the bill has 12 co-sponsors, including Anthony Williams, a Democrat whose district includes University City, and four Republicans.
The last time a similar bill was introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, it never came up for a vote. This time, however, both Smucker and Kelemen were more optimistic.
“We feel that it has a good chance of passing in the senate and also beyond,” Kelemen said.
If the bill were to become law, Pennsylvania would become the 13th state with similar legislation.