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By W. Gardner Selby December 14, 2017

Greg Abbott's support for repeal of pro-immigrant law doesn't play into action

Greg Abbott ran for governor signaling he'd go along with disconnecting a political tripwire for Republicans that benefits college students from Texas living in the United States without legal permission.

We hadn't previously rated progress on this Abbott promise using the PolitiFact Texas Abbott-O-Meter, which tracks action on his campaign vows. We decided to take a fresh look as Abbott, a Republican, prepares to seek a second term in 2018.

2001 law

We've been writing about the law authorizing in-state college tuition for such Texans, sometimes called Dreamers, since 2010. Under the law, students lacking proper immigration documentation who earn a Texas high school diploma or GED and have lived in Texas for at least three years may qualify for in-state tuition if they sign an affidavit saying they intend to apply for permanent residency as soon as they can. In 2015, the latest year of available data, 24,982 Texas college students benefited from the law, representing about 1.5 percent of students attending the state's public institutions of higher education, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board later reported.

To refresh, Republican Gov. Rick Perry in 2001 signed into law the Democratic-authored proposal, which made it to Perry with scant opposition. In 2011, however, Perry lost steam running for president when foes challenged his full-throated defense of the law. Four years later, Perry revealed that he had no position on legislators possibly repealing the law--a shift of position that then landed him a Half Flip rating on the PolitiFact Texas Flip-O-Meter.

Abbott's campaign promise

Abbott while running for governor initially signaled he thought the law could be patched rather than trashed. In October 2013, according to a Dallas Morning News account, Matt Hirsch of Abbott's campaign said: "Greg Abbott believes that the objective of the program is noble. But he believes the law as structured is flawed and it must be reformed."

Hirsch didn't say Abbott favored repealing the law. But Abbott said during a subsequent debate with Democratic nominee Wendy Davis that he wouldn't veto a repeal of the law if such a proposal came to his desk as governor. As recapped by the Texas Tribune, the candidates on Sept. 30, 2014 "were asked about their views on the so-called Texas Dream Act, a law Texas adopted in 2001 that allows certain undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates while attending public universities in the state. While Davis said she would veto a repeal of the law," the story said, "Abbott said he would not, which means he is putting some distance between himself and other Republicans like" Perry, the story said.

No repeal in two regular sessions

Gov. Abbott did not call for lawmakers in the 2015 and 2017 regular sessions to revise or repeal the law though Republican legislators tried to do so.

In 2015, the Legislature didn't agree on a measure repealing the 2001 law. News organizations including the Tribune noted that Sen. Donna Campbell's repeal measure cleared a Senate committee but lacked sufficient support to win consideration by the full Senate.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, later said repeal of the tuition law ranked among his personal priorities for the 2017 session.

In contrast, House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, told the San Antonio Express-News that the law didn't need changing. Straus specified that "the law, as it is, is perfectly acceptable," the newspaper reported. Straus said that when young people graduate from public schools, "the state and local districts have invested in their success." Straus went on: "There's no debate at all that we need more and better-skilled people in our workforce. I see no benefit to the state, or to the state's future, by limiting the success of people who've played by the rules and have qualified for higher education and who can become successful citizens of the state of Texas and productive in our economy."

Abbott, whose aides didn't respond to our request for comment on this promise's progress, didn't mention the law in his January 2017 state-of-the-state address to lawmakers--and we spotted no sign of a repeal proposal making headway in the 2017 session.

Rather, legislative records show that Campbell, R-New Braunfels, again filed a repeal measure, Senate Bill 2059, in March 2017; it was referred to a committee before dying without further action. Other repeal efforts -- House Bills 393, 753 and 767 -- were each filed and referred to a committee without drawing consideration, records indicate.

Abbott not blamed

After the session, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, was asked why his own repeal push didn't advance. The Tribune quoted Stickland blaming House leaders including Straus.

In reviewing action on this Abbott promise, we sought Campbell's comment on why her 2017 repeal proposal languished. By email, Jon Oliver, Campbell's chief of staff, said in part: "With only 140 days to work with, lawmakers generally put their time and energy into the bills that gain traction the quickest. Stopping taxpayer dollars from being used to subsidize college tuition for non-citizens here illegally remains an important issue for Sen. Campbell and something she will work on again next session."

We rate this previously unrated vow an Abbott PROMISE BROKEN.

Promise Broken  – The promise has not been fulfilled.

Our Sources

Fact-checks and story, PolitiFact Texas, "Perry says the TEA checks whether undocumented students are applying for permanent residency," Feb. 14, 2010; "Rick Perry says only four Texas lawmakers opposed in-state tuition law for illegal immigrants," Sept. 28, 2011;  "Rick Perry says immigrant tuition law made sense in 2001 but he's got no position on repeal in 2015," April 15, 2015

Document, "OVERVIEW: ELIGIBILITY FOR IN-STATE  TUITION AND STATE FINANCIAL  PROGRAMS," Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, November 2016

News stories, Dallas Morning News, "Abbott says Texas law charging illegal immigrants in-state tuition had 'noble' goal but needs overhaul," Oct. 11, 2013; "Bedford lawmaker wants to ban in-state tuition for unauthorized Texas immigrants," Nov. 17, 2016

News stories, Texas Tribune, "Abbott Urges Reform, Not Repeal, of DREAM Act," Oct. 11, 2013;  "In Final Debate, Abbott Gets Aggressive, Davis Stays That Way," Sept. 30, 2014; "Despite Early Momentum, Immigration Bills Fall Flat," June 1, 2015; "Dan Patrick Again Targeting In-State Tuition For Undocumented Students," Sept. 9, 2016; "Dreamers grateful efforts to repeal in-state tuition benefit never materialized," July 12, 2017

Legislation, 2015 Texas legislative session, Senate Bill 1819, Texas Legislature Online (accessed Dec. 11, 2017)

News story, "In-state tuition for certain undocumented immigrants OK by Straus," San Antonio Express-News, Jan. 4, 2017

Web page, "Governor Abbott Delivers State Of The State Address," Office of Gov. Greg Abbott, Jan. 31, 2017

Proposals regarding 2001 Texas law relating to unauthorized immigrants and in-state public college tuition, Senate Bill 2059 (and actions); House Bill 393 (and actions); HB 753 (and actions); HB 767 (and actions), Texas Legislature Online, Texas Legislative Council (accessed Dec. 11, 2017)

Email, Jon G. Oliver, chief of staff, state Sen. Donna Campbell, Dec. 11, 2017

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