What makes an undocumented alien “undocumented?” Most people would think, correctly, that it means being present in the United States without permission. It follows, then, that an alien who has permission to be here is “documented.” You don’t need to be an immigration lawyer (and I am one) to understand this.

Sounds simple enough, right? Apparently not.

On Dec. 2, 2014 Delegate David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun) introduced a bill (HB 1356) to deny in-state tuition to, as the Post reported on Jan. 2, “some undocumented immigrants.” But the bill itself, as also reported by the Post, denies in-state tuition to holders of temporary protected status (TPS) and deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA.) Senator Richard Black’s (R-Loudoun) nearly identical bill (SB 722) would have further denied in-state tuition to grantees of the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program which isn’t even effective yet (though we are hopeful a preliminary injunction halting it will be eventually lifted.) Thankfully, Sen. Black’s bill was defeated by the Senate on January 20, 2015.

TPS and DACA grantees are not undocumented. They have the right to be here, and to work here. They do not accrue unlawful presence. Their immigration benefit, while temporary, is also indefinite. They have the right to apply for a work permit, known officially as an “employment authorization document.” TPS, DACA and DAPA are humanitarian and family unification benefits. Authority has existed for years as part of the federal immigration law.

TPS is granted to nationals of those countries the Secretary of Homeland Security designates as unsafe for return. Countries with TPS designations include El Salvador, Honduras, Somalia, Syria, and most recently, Ebola-stricken Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone.

DACA is granted to those aliens who entered the US before the age of 16 who meet other continuity of presence and educational requirements. Both require relatively clean criminal records, with forgiveness for only one misdemeanor.

So let me put this into perspective. The new bill would deny in-state tuition to a Salvadorean teen who’s been in the United States lawfully since the age of 4. Or a Syrian college student who was forced to flee her country for daring take part in an anti-government demonstration. Or a Somali youth who refused to join the Al Shabab terrorist group. All who would be in the United States with the blessing of the federal government, working legally, and paying taxes with their own valid social security number. Yet they would be locked out of a fair chance to pursue education and contribute to Virginia.

Let me repeat: TPS and DACA grantees are NOT undocumented!

Our immigration law at its core protects the vulnerable, upholds the great welcoming tradition of America, and values family unity – despite Judge Hanen’s abhorrent ruling agreeing with certain states that immigration policy used to be “profamily.”

Del. Ramadan and Sen. Black apparently believe their constituents spoke in a clear voice that they wanted a ban on in-state tuition. My simple question to these lawmakers is: If the existing Virginia law already pretermits an undocumented immigrant from receiving in-state tuition, why are you targeting two of the most vulnerable groups of documented immigrants?

Hassan M. Ahmad, Esq.

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