The Virginia DREAM Act — legislation that would have allowed children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state college tuition — has died in Richmond, but supporters are optimistic the bill will pass next year.
"I was encouraged," said Del. Tom Rust, R-Herndon. "The bill has never gotten this far before. In fact, it's never gotten anywhere. I was encouraged by the response. It got a lot of support. I will be introducing it again next year, and I will be working on it between now and then."
For the past seven years, similar legislation has died in a House subcommittee. This year, though, the measure , and it then passed the full House Education Committee with a 17-4 vote.
It helped that the coalition supporting the bill expanded to include chambers of commerce in Arlington, Fairfax and Reston, not to mention several colleges and universities and faith-based organizations.
"I'm incredibly optimistic," said Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington. "I definitely think the support we have this year will carry over to next year — and will only grow. And I'm going to continue working incredibly hard to make sure that happens."
But late last week, the bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee, which refused to hear it, Lopez said. That committee would have had to hear the matter last week in order for the bill to get three readings on the House floor by Tuesday, the so-called crossover deadline for legislation to move from one chamber to the other in the Virginia General Assembly.
Rust said he believed President Barack Obama's executive order in June — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows children of illegal immigrants who meet certain criteria to obtain work visas — helped generate support for this year's proposal in Virginia.
Since Obama's reelection in November, bipartisan support for comprehensive immigration reform is higher than it has been in years.
Some state lawmakers raised legitimate questions as to what would happen to the proposed Virginia law in case immigration reform is passed at the federal level, Rust said.
Though the bill — a combination of legislation originally proposed by Rust and Lopez — died in the Appropriations Committee, Lopez said the cost to the state was negligible.
"What happens is it's another year of kids who are having to wait," he said. "And that's a tragedy."