Big victory for local Legal Aid center as Herring extends in-state tuition to DACA-eligible immigrants

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Photo: Adrin Snider/MCT/ Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. Photo: Adrin Snider/MCT/

Last year, Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit seeking in-state college tuition for Virginia youth who emigrated to the U.S. illegally as children. Today, the plaintiffs in the suit won a major victory—though not in the courtroom. Attorney General Mark Herring announced this morning that under Virginia law, immigrants covered by the Obama administration memorandum known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, can pay lower in-state rates at the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities.

“This is about Virginia high school graduates wanting to continue their education here in Virginia,” said Tim Freilich, legal director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program, in a press release issued Tuesday. “It’s completely appropriate that Virginia should help these students realize their dreams. Today’s policy change is a smart investment in the futures of these students, and the future of Virginia.”

The LAJC brought the suit on behalf of seven students—some from the Charlottesville-Albemarle area—who had been granted DACA status by the federal government. The special status had authorized them to work in the U.S. and get Virginia driver’s licenses, but when it came to getting approved for in-state tuition that would have allowed them to attend college, they were turned down by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Their LAJC lawyers argued the DACA memo made them eligible. The plaintiffs have dropped the suit.

“I’ve been paying out‐of‐state tuition rates at Piedmont [Virginia] Community College, even though I’ve been here in Virginia since I was four years old,” 19-year-old 2013 Monticello High School graduate Miriam Garcia Aleman said in the JAJC press release. “My parents have worked hard to pay for my studies. In‐state tuition will make things much easier on my family financially.”

As a Washington Post story pointed out, Herring’s move is likely to stoke the already healthy partisan fires burning in Richmond, as it comes on the heels of a legislative session that saw Republicans kill a bill that would have allowed for exactly what the Attorney General just made legal. One Republican delegate from Salem tweeted that Herring’s announcement amounting to him “making up the law.”

 Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe issued a statement supporting Herring’s interpretation of the federal memo.

“As I said throughout my campaign, I believe that Virginia children who were brought here at a young age, grew up here, and have stayed out of trouble, should absolutely have access to the same educational opportunities as everyone else,” Herring said. “To grow a 21st Century economy, Virginia needs to be open and welcoming to all who call our Commonwealth home, and I am encouraged to see progress being made in this area during my administration.”