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By Sue Owen December 12, 2012

Juan Hernández says Texas was first to pass a state ‘Dream Act’

Texas’ political future isn’t necessarily painted Democratic blue, according to Juan Hernández, the co-founder of Hispanic Republicans of Texas.

Asked by the Dallas Morning News in a Nov. 8, 2012, interview whether demographics will soon change the state’s Republican hue, Hernández said, "No, because I see Texas [Republicans] moving very quickly to incorporating Hispanics." Among his examples: "Texas passed a state DREAM Act before any other state in the nation," he said. "So Texas is different."

By phone, Hernández confirmed that he was talking about a law PolitiFact Texas has examined several times. In 2001, Texas lawmakers passed (almost unanimously) and Gov. Rick Perry signed into law a measure allowing certain immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children to attend state colleges and universities at the tuition rates charged to legal in-state residents.

Hernández, a Fort Worth native and Mexican-U.S. studies professor who was tapped in 2001 to be Mexico’s special adviser on migrant affairs, said he was among many who supported the legislation.

Though sometimes called the "Texas Dream Act," the law is much narrower in scope than the national DREAM Act proposed in various forms since 2001.

The federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, said a June 22, 2012, PolitiFact story, also pertains to certain children brought to the United States illegally by parents or relatives. But the national legislation would create a new way to give those immigrants legal status and avoid deportation, if they have stayed out of trouble and were in school or the military.

State law does not (and cannot) change their legal status. Texas’ law only requires that the students sign an affidavit saying they intend to apply for permanent residency as soon as they're able to do so.

Twelve other states have tuition laws like Texas’, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, enacted in the wake of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.

One provision in the act sought to prevent states from giving a tuition benefit to illegal immigrants that is not available to all legal U.S. residents -- that is, legal residents of other states, who pay a higher "out-of-state" rate. But the language was unclear, the NCSL site said, and "there is no guidance in congressional report language or in federal regulations."

Some states reacted by passing laws to allow the tuition benefit for certain illegal immigrants -- typically those who had attended high school in the state and intended to apply for citizenship. Other states, the NCSL site said, passed legislation banning illegal immigrants from getting in-state tuition rates.

Both types of law have been challenged in court. The national DREAM Act includes language to repeal the murky federal provision.

Was Texas first to put the tuition benefit into law?

Yes. "In June 2001, Texas (HB 1403) was the first state to pass legislation allowing in-state tuition for immigrant students," says the NCSL site in a report updated Nov. 28, 2012.

Next, it says, were California, Utah and New York in 2001-02; Washington and Illinois in 2003; Kansas in 2004; New Mexico in 2005; Nebraska in 2006; Wisconsin in 2009; Maryland and Connecticut in 2011. Oklahoma granted the benefit in 2004, then rescinded it in 2008.

Texas barely edged out California, though. According to California’s legislative information site, Assembly Bill 540 was approved by both Senate and Assembly on Sept. 14, 2001, then signed by Gov. Gray Davis on Oct. 12, 2001.

Texas House and Senate journals for the 2001 session show that versions of House Bill 1403 cleared House and Senate education panels with no opposition. The House passed the measure 142-1 on April 23, 2001; the Senate amended it, then approved it 27-3 on May 21, 2001.

Three days later, the House approved the Senate's changes 130-2. Perry signed the measure into law June 16, 2001.

Was this state law a "Dream Act," even though it could not change students’ legal status?

Perry spoke of the "Texas dream" in a speech soon after he signed the law, telling the Southwest Voters Registration Education Project that he approved it "so that young Texans who graduated from our public schools, regardless of their immigration status, will be able to pay in‑state tuition and take part in the Texas dream. We want bright, new Texans to stay here, and contribute great things to our future."

A Nov. 15, 2011, Austin American-Statesman news story said the Texas law is "commonly referred to as the Texas Dream Act."

We trawled through more news stories on, where the first such reference we spotted was a 2004 description of "Texas’ Dream Act." Thereafter, we found many in other states, usually referring to similar in-state tuition proposals.

In California and New York, however, stories from 2007 through 2011 reserved the term for legislation going further than the tuition laws already on those states’ books -- granting eligibility for financial aid or drivers’ licenses, for example.

Hernández agreed the Texas law is not equivalent to the national legislation. When he was helping advocate the state law, he told us, "we didn’t call it the Dream Act."  

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But there is common ground, he said. "We’re talking about the same kids, and we’re talking about finding ways to live a life in this nation," he said. "I think that’s why many of us say it’s a type of Dream Act."

Our ruling

Hernández said Texas was the first to pass a state DREAM Act.

Texas was the first state to permit in-state tuition for certain children in the country illegally. But like other states’ laws, its measure did not -- could not -- go as far as federal versions offering a possible path to citizenship. The state laws are not DREAM acts. We rate the claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Dallas Morning News blog post, "Julian Castro and Juan Hernandez discuss Hispanic vote — and its potential impact on elections to come," Nov. 8, 2012

Telephone interview with Juan Hernández, Dec. 6, 2012

National Conference of State Legislatures issue report, "In-State Tuition and Unauthorized Immigrant Students," updated Nov. 28, 2012

Official California Legislative Information site, records for Assembly Bill 540, 2001

Texas House journal, 77th Legislature, April 23, 2001

Texas Senate journal, 77th Legislature, May 21, 2001

Gov. Rick Perry, prepared remarks for speech to Southwest Voters Registration Education Project, June 22, 2001

Austin American-Statesman news story, "Undocumented students grateful to Perry for defending in-state tuition law," Nov. 15, 2011

Notes from searching newspaper archives, Dec. 10, 2012

Agence France-Presse news story, "California passes Dream Act for immigrant students," Oct. 8, 2011

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Juan Hernández says Texas was first to pass a state ‘Dream Act’

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