Students with undocumented immigrant parents will get in-state tuition in Tennessee after living in state for at least one year.
Governor Bill Haslam signed the bill into law this week, which goes into effect July 1, and it is considered a start for those in the immigrant community. Four "English as a second language" or ESL students graduated with their GEDs Thursday night at Chattanooga State Community College, graduate Luis Landgrave said his education was invaluable as a Mexican-American.
"Poverty over (in Mexico), it's ridiculous. You need to pay for school, your books, clothes, your diploma and here, we get so much help from the government. It's really great," said Landgrave.
Portuguese-speaking Angola native Alberto Domingos also benefited from the program.
"I do think that it's convenient, a good opportunity to use the time that a person is here to study English," sad Domingos.
Those kinds of stories compelled Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam to sign the bill, which Senator Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, co-sponsored.
"We need to educate them. If we educate them and they get a college degree, they start paying more taxes than they take out. So, it's financially a benefit to the Tennessee for this to happen," said Gardenhire.
Some educators said the opportunity should extend to all immigrants.
"If they worked hard enough to come to this country and get a high school equivalency diploma, then they certainly should have the opportunity to get a post-secondary education," said Nancy Crim, an adult education teacher.
While it's only a start, some immigrants, like Domingos, plan to take advantage of what's already available.
"Here, there is a good opportunity for me to do one more degree in college," said Domingos, who already holds a foreign engineering degree.
After a similar note, Gardenhire is also working on a bill that would give undocumented high school students the chance to receive in-state college tuition. It would apply if they maintain a "B" average in school and lived in Tennessee for five years. By Briona Arradondo