Bills giving Arkansas DACA recipients access to nursing licenses, in-statetuition signed into law

Apr 11, 2019 by


DACA recipient Rosa Ruvalcaba Serna, standing next to Arkansas state Rep. Megan Godfrey, becomes emotional as the nursing bill is signed into law.

In a major victory for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in Arkansas, two bills that would allow them to access nursing licenses and in-state tuition rates at public universities were signed into law by the state’s Republican governor this week. “Without DACA nurses passing,” said future nursing student and DACA recipient Aldair Guerrero, “I would have had to transfer to another state and Arkansas is all I’ve known. I wanted to stay here and help Arkansans.”

The DACA program confers work permits and protection from deportation on beneficiaries, but only some states allow immigrant youth to access professional licenses and in-state tuition rates. That is a great detriment to both young immigrants and their states. On tuition, for example, it didn’t matter if a DACA recipient had called Arkansas home for years—they’d still have to pay the out-of-state rate. “For the 2018-19 school year, in-state tuition at the University of Arkansas—Fayetteville is $9,130. For out-of-state students, it is $25,168,” the Arkansas Times reported.

Previously, DACA recipients unable to afford this would have had little option but to either postpone their higher education goals, or leave the state to go study elsewhere. Immigrant youth were losing their communities, and their communities were losing them. Financial aid remains a huge challenge for many—DACA recipients remain ineligible for things like federal student aid despite paying into the system through their tax dollars—but these bills stand to make things a little easier for them. Tears of happiness flowed as the governor signed the legislation on Wednesday.

The resounding success of the nursing bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Megan Godfrey, was particularly noteworthy.

She “passed a progressive-sounding bill 90-0 in the House and 23-4 in the Senate,” the Greenwood Democrat reported. “And she did it a few months after being elected by beating a Republican incumbent by 29 votes out of 3,689 cast.” With communities facing a nursing shortage, she quickly won over a Republican co-sponsor, who said he “knew if the state didn’t make those future nurses feel welcome, they’d go to places like neighboring Oklahoma, which already grants the licenses.”

Reported the Arkansas Times, “Mireya Reith, the director of Arkansas United, said the bill may benefit as many as 5,000 DACA students and perhaps thousands more in the other groups. It could go into effect as soon as the upcoming 2019-20 school year, depending on how quickly the state Education Department is able to promulgate rules.”

Barbara Barroso was among the immigrant youth who traveled to the state capitol building to rally in support of the tuition bill. Despite her being educated in Arkansas from kindergarten on, her status made higher education just about impossible. Following the bill’s passage, she hopes to major in communications with a minor in finance at the University of Arkansas. “I’ll be able to go to school,” she said. “For this to pass in Arkansas means a lot, because it’s my home. It’s a lot—too much to talk about.”

Not all legislation affecting immigrant families in the state was being celebrated, though. Little Rock CBS affiliate THVII reported, “But despite Wednesday’s success, Arkansas United, an immigrant organization, gathered to also ask Gov. Hutchinson to veto Senate Bill 411. The bill bans Arkansas cities that adopt ‘sanctuary city’ policies from receiving state funding. Sanctuary city laws protect undocumented immigrants from deportation or prosecution.”

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