Bills Introduced Regarding In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students and Marijuana-Related Drug Convictions

By Stephen Payne, Policy & Federal Relations Staff

Last week, the House of Representatives introduced two separate pieces of legislation that address two issues of interest to student financial aid administrators. One enacts a system to ensure states or institutions prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving student aid if not “available to all citizens and nationals of the United States.” The other would exclude a misdemeanor charge for possession of marijuana from its current classification as a “drug-related offense” for the purposes of student eligibility.  

In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

The first, H.R. 3566, would “prohibit an alien who is not in a lawful immigration status in the United States from being eligible for postsecondary education benefits that are not available to all citizens and nationals of the United States.” The bill, introduced by Rep. Gosar (R-AZ), aims to address the actions of certain states to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, and builds off of the the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) passed in 1996 which already includes this language.

This bill adds a judicial process for civil action in case a student who is enrolled at an institution discovers her institution is providing illegal immigrants with “postsecondary education benefits” that she is not eligible for herself. The student would be able to appeal to a district court where, if the institution was determined to have violated the statute, she would be entitled to “damages equal to the monetary value of any benefit provided to an alien who is not in a lawful immigration status in the United States that was denied to the plaintiff.”

“It is unthinkable that some states are circumventing federal law to allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition, while other legal American citizens, playing by the rules, have to pay out-of-state tuition to attend public universities,” Gosar said in a press release. The bill has 20 co-sponsors, all Republicans.

More information on the legal background of in-state tuition for illegal immigrants can be found in this 2014 Congressional Research Service report.

Marijuana-Related Drug Convictions

An unrelated piece of legislation, The Fair Access to Education Act, introduced by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) looks to loosen certain student eligibility requirements regarding drug convictions, specifically in the case of marijuana infractions.

The bill would modify existing law by excluding any misdemeanor offense for possession of marijuana from “drug-related offense” for the purpose of determining student eligibility. As it stands now, students who were convicted under federal or state law of their first offense for drug possession that occurred while receiving federal student aid can lose eligibility for one year, according to FSA Handbook page 1-15. In addition, if enacted, the legislation would be retroactive, allowing students currently ineligible because of a prior misdemeanor offense for possession of marijuana to receive Title IV aid, according to a fact sheet.

Introduced as part of a package of several bills, Blumenauer said in a press release, “These bills remove unfair federal hiring and education barriers to help put a stop to the cycle of recidivism.” So far, the measure has not garnered any co-sponsors.


Publication Date: 9/28/2015

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