On April 7, 2014, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed House Bill 1929, which recognizes that U.S. citizen children of undocumented parents qualify for in-state tuition discounts. The bill passed with a vote of 63 to 27 and has been sent to the Governor Haslam for signature.
The language of Bill 1929 provides that a student at a public institution of higher education may be charged in-state tuition if the student is a citizen of the United States, has resided in Tennessee for at least one year, and has either graduated from an approved Tennessee public secondary school, private secondary school, or earned a Tennessee high school equivalency diploma.
One of the primary concerns behind the passage of Bill 1929 was that Republican lawmakers, under previous policy, sought to treat these children different than children of U.S. citizens, labeling them "anchor babies" and questioning the validity of their citizenship. Under the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Citizenship Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, children born in the United States, save for very few exceptions, are deemed U.S. citizens. Citizenship by birth (jus soli) was also upheld by the Supreme Court in United States v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898). Thus, the House of Representatives passed the bill, in part, to avoid potential discrimination litigation, as has been seen in Florida and other states.
Importantly, Bill 1929 only applies to children who are U.S. citizens. Earlier this year, lawmakers did not pass a bill that would have granted such benefits to undocumented children. Hopefully in-state tuition will eventually be extended to undocumented students, especially with the current availability of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) relief.