As a student teacher at several Austin middle schools, I like seeing how excited my Hispanic students are to have a teacher who looks like them. I want my presence in the classroom to inspire young people from all backgrounds – including undocumented immigrants like me – and demonstrate that they can achieve their dreams and contribute to their communities. But with the introduction of a new bill, I’m worried that the state legislature may soon place a major roadblock in front of many of my students’ goals.
Since the new Texas Legislature has convened, Senator Pat Fallon and Rep. Kyle Biedermann have introduced the latest of many attempts to overturn the Texas Dream Act, which requires state universities and colleges to charge in-state tuition to undocumented students, provided they have resided in Texas for three years prior to graduating from high school. That law made it possible for me to attend the University of Texas, where I’ll graduate in May, and pursue my dreams of being a high school history teacher and eventually a lawyer. If the law is overturned, however, tuition rates for undocumented young people, including my students and younger siblings, could rise from about $5,200 to $5,800 a semester to about $18,000 a semester. As a result, many Dreamers like me, young people who were brought to this country as children, could be forced to drop out of school. Or they might never apply at all.
The price hike would not only jeopardize the futures of many bright, hard-working young people, it would also harm the state’s economy, according to a report by New American Economy. The 2019 analysis found that changing residency requirements could cost the state nearly $400 million in economic activity, as it would result in lower salaries, tax revenue and spending power.
It would also worsen our state’s critical labor shortages. College-educated Dreamers tend to pursue the fields that have the greatest need for skilled workers, such as teaching, nursing, accounting and technology. My younger brother is a great example. He hopes to study electrical engineering after he graduates from high school in May. If he gets that electrical engineering degree, he would be filling a massive skills gap. There are 13.4 jobs in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) advertised online for each unemployed STEM worker in Texas. Limiting his access to education would both crush his dreams and hurt the economy.
My family came to Texas from Mexico when I was 3 years old, and my parents taught my siblings and me to be reliable and self-sufficient. The Texas Dream Act gave me confidence that I could create my own destiny. I spent my first two years after high school working at a construction job and saving money to pay for school. My savings helped cover my costs of getting an associate’s degree and then, along with a scholarship, my $5,200 per semester tuition at UT Austin.
But the political climate made it difficult for me to relax. While I was attending UT, some members of the Legislature introduced different measures to overturn the law. Each time a bill popped up, I’d become nervous. I knew I couldn’t afford the higher tuition. Would all of my hard work go to waste?
Luckily, those bills didn’t pass, and I continued my education. Now my goal is to educate and inspire students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research indicates that my Hispanic heritage will help; a 2018 report from the Learning Policy Institute found that teachers of color have a positive impact on the academic performance of students of color.
I want to continue to be a role model for my students. I want to show them if an undocumented immigrant from Mexico can become a successful professional, they can, too. But if the state Legislature quashes their chances of getting an education, I don’t know how I can honestly tell them that.
Moreno is a senior at the University of Texas, majoring in government and history.