Missouri state legislators couldn't seem to make up their minds about the educational fate of the young immigrants known as Dreamers. These are the youths brought here illegally by their parents and who, in most cases, know no other country than the United States. Some legislators seem to want to punish them for being undocumented — a status that none of them chose.
Missouri is one of just six states that ban in-state benefits to Dreamers, youths who arrived here before 2007 and who qualified for deportation protection under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. House and Senate conferees took the bold step last Wednesday of removing language from House Bill 3, an appropriations measure for higher education, that would have continued denying them in-state tuition.
Wednesday's move seemed a major sign of progress. But on Thursday, conferees re-inserted the in-state tuition ban.
With all the attention President Donald Trump has focused on illegal immigration, this issue has unfairly become immersed in his anti-immigrant crusade. A lot of people, apparently including some state legislators, think this is about Democrats vs. Republicans or Trump policies vs. those of former President Barack Obama. They couldn't be more wrong.
Republicans in staunchly red states like Texas have come to understand that there's nothing to be gained by holding one class of young people down while advancing others toward educational success. When Dreamers are denied in-state tuition, many if not most give up on the idea of higher education because it's too expensive. A future full of menial jobs awaits.
Forcing them into this status runs directly contrary to Gov. Mike Parson's priority of building Missouri's workforce preparation to make Missouri more attractive for employers and business investors. He should demand they rethink this provision.
General Motors, which is contemplating a major investment in Wentzville, says the corporation "stands with the Dreamers we employ and the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers employed by multiple companies across the U.S."
In Texas back in 2001, long before Obama was president, then-Gov. Rick Perry led his fellow Republican lawmakers in approving in-state tuition for undocumented students. Perry is no limp-wristed liberal. As governor, he recognized that a well-educated workforce would make the Texas economy hum like a race car, as it does today. It made no sense to deny in-state tuition to that state's large population of undocumented youths and put Texas at a competitive disadvantage.
The Texas Association of Business remains firmly behind in-state tuition. In Arkansas, Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson also backed such a provision for Dreamers. Oklahoma has done likewise. These Republican initiatives are every bit in line with their conservative, pro-business beliefs.
Missouri is the outlier. Why? Because politicians are blinded by Trump's anti-immigrant tirade and refuse to see well-educated Dreamers for what they are — a workforce asset to boost Missouri's competitiveness.
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