Tenn. lawmaker worries effort to give illegals in-state tuition may get ‘Trumped’

A state senator in Tennessee is concerned that Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric will sink the chances for a bill he is sponsoring to extend in-state college tuition to individuals brought into the country illegally as children.

“I hope we don't get Trumped on this,” Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire told the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier this week, referring to Trump’s oft-quoted assertions that many illegal immigrants are drug dealers and rapists. “There’s a risk that will all be in play for our opponents—fodder, if you will.”

Gardenhire introduced the same bill in each of the legislature’s last two sessions, and while it failed to reach the floor in 2014, the legislation passed the Senate last year and fell just one vote short of passage in the House.

Yet while he fears that Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican presidential primaries could reverse the bill’s momentum, Gardenhire also rejected out of hand the notion that Trump would actually be able to implement many of his proposals, such as deporting all illegal immigrants.

“Regardless of what Trump says, we're not going to ship them back. They're here,” he stated, arguing that public policy should recognize that reality and work toward helping individuals who entered the country illegally as children to become full and productive members of society.

Some of Gardenhire’s colleagues share his concerns for the bill’s chances this session, but Eban Cathey, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, dismissed their worries as unduly pessimistic.

“This bill passed the Senate last year, 2-1 basically. It's got overwhelming support,” Cathey said, adding, “I'm not sure why kids going to college is controversial.”

Conversely, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, a Republican, said that while he supports the legislation as a preferable alternative to letting undocumented students be “kept in ignorance,” he is far less optimistic about its chances.

“I suspect that will not happen this year,” McCormick told the Times Free Press. “I think the political atmosphere is not in place where it's likely to pass this year.”

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