Bill advances to require citizenship proof for in-state tuition
Bill advances to require citizenship proof for in-state tuition

Legislation that would require students to show proof of citizenship or lawful residence in Iowa to qualify for in-state tuition passed out of subcommittee Monday. (Photo Illustration via Canva)

Hector Salamanca Arroyo credits his educational successes and opportunities to serve the public to the in-state tuition he qualified for as an Iowa resident. It allowed him to study criminal justice at Des Moines Area Community College, leading him to Drake University after qualifying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and eventually serving in law enforcement and the military.


Now a full U.S. citizen, Arroyo spoke to members of the Iowa House of Representatives Monday urging them to oppose a bill that would stop students from having the same educational opportunities he did.  House File 2128 would require students to show proof of citizenship to receive in-state tuition.

“Education is supposed to be the mechanism that levels the playing field, and if an Iowa student is trying to continue their education, we shouldn’t punish them by putting higher education out of reach,” Arroyo said. “Whether you acknowledge it or not, these are Iowans who aspire to further their education in their home state. Iowans who aspire to be future Cyclones, Panthers and Hawks in the same way as I did in 2012. They deserve to be treated as Iowans and qualify for in-state tuition.”

Despite concerns expressed by community members and representatives of Iowa’s higher education systems that it could be discriminatory and burdensome, the bill passed a three-member subcommittee in the Iowa House.


The bill would require the Iowa Board of Regents and community college boards to adopt policies to prohibit schools from classifying a student as an Iowa resident, which would allow them to receive lower tuition and fees, without proof that the student is either a U.S. citizen or “lawfully present in the United States,” according to the bill.

Rep. Taylor Collins, R-Mediapolis, heard statements from the public alongside Rep. Sami Scheetz, D-Cedar Rapids, and Rep. Skyler Wheeler, R-Hull.

Other Iowans, many immigrants who later became U.S. citizens themselves, echoed Arroyo’s statement and spoke out against the bill for others like them, trying to seek an education while navigating barriers their peers don’t have to handle.

Joe Henry of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) said this legislation would also negatively impact the immigrant workers who work in different areas of agriculture, from the fields to processing to serving food. If they and their families were not able to receive the education they need to continue in the workforce, Henry said the agriculture sector would “shut down.”

Gabriel Saldana, a community organizer for Iowa Migrant Movement for Justice, said that in addition to limiting the workforce, this bill would also cause graduation rates and interest in higher education to drop. It would also be a blow to the families and educators working to support students.

States that have enacted legislation that provides tuition equity, rather than restrictions based on citizenship status, have seen more students graduate high school and attend post-secondary schooling, Saldana said, as well as other economic and social benefits. According to the National Immigration Law Center, 24 states and the District of Columbia have tuition equity laws in place, which ensure all state residents receive in-state tuition no matter their citizenship status.

“This is an attack upon the immigrant community,” Henry said. “Immigrants pay taxes, they pay their bills, they take care of things. They need to make sure that their kids can have a good education. They should not be charged out-of-state tuition.”


If passed, this bill would burden institutions as well as students, said Iowa Board of Regents lobbyist Keith Saunders.

The board currently determines who qualifies for in-state tuition by residency, not citizenship, generally based on where the student graduated from high school. Enacting this legislation would require students to provide more documentation that, depending on their situation, they might not even have access to, and then place the responsibility on the institutions of verifying and keeping secure these documents.

“I would ask that you not put the universities in the position of judging the veracity of legal documents, or necessitate us having to create another bureaucracy on campus to both collect documentation that … all Iowa students right now are not required to show, and then force us to store that information as well,” Saunders said.

Jeff Smith, representing Community Colleges for Iowa, echoed Saunders’s statement and said the addition of more administrative rules for applicants would burden the community colleges already working hard to follow the policies put in place by the Legislature.

In showing his support for the bill, Collins said 7 million people have entered the U.S. illegally under President Joe Biden’s tenure, and the issue will need to be addressed at some point.

“This is a very simple issue,” Collins said. “If you come to this country illegally, we’re not going to subsidize your college education.”

Wheeler also spoke in favor of the legislation, calling it “common sense” and saying taxpayer money shouldn’t be used to fund the education of those who aren’t living in the U.S. legally.

Scheetz said he struggled to find the point of it in the larger context of problems facing higher education today. Why focus on the citizenship status of every Iowa-residing student hoping to attend one of the state’s public colleges or universities, he asked, when issues like stagnant funding for higher education paired with higher costs exist?

If signed into law, Scheetz said the bill would turn the Board of Regents into an immigration service and place undue burdens on prospective students without actually fixing anything.

“This is a bill in search of a problem, and for that reason I’m going to be voting against it today,” Scheetz said.

The bill moves the full House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.


The post Bill advances to require citizenship proof for in-state tuition appeared first on Iowa Capital Dispatch.

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