‘Scary’: Iowa Latinos concerned about GOP bill to limit access to higher education

Hector Salamanca Arroyo of Waterloo speaks during an Iowa House subcommittee on preventing undocumented Iowans from receiving in-state tuition rates at state universities and community colleges as supporters look on. Photo by Ty Rushing/Starting Line

By Ty Rushing

January 30, 2024

Ari Davis of Des Moines serves as a TA and Survivor Services Coordinator for the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, a position that allows her to help survivors of sexual assault and one she would not be in if not for a college education.

“If I was not able to get in-state tuition, I would not be able have my degree and be able to help in society that way I am. And that’s why this bill is so scary,” Davis said, referring to HF 2128, a bill introduced by Iowa House Republicans that prevents undocumented residents who live in Iowa from receiving in-state tuition benefits at Iowa’s universities and community colleges.

The only reason Davis, who was born in Mexico, grew up in Chicago and then moved to Iowa during her junior year of high school, was able to afford higher education was because she qualified for in-state tuition under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program established under the Obama administration.

HF 2128 requires proof of citizenship or “lawful presence,” the latter of which DACA falls under, although it can be overturned by any president since it was done by an executive order and not an act of Congress.

Davis’ experience and the way she has gone on to use her voice is why she was one of many Iowa Latinos and immigration advocates who spoke out against the legislation during a Monday subcommittee meeting.

Hector Salamanca Arroyo shared a similar story Monday while displaying his degrees from Des Moines Area Community College and Drake University in front of him. The Waterloo resident was born in Mexico and came to Iowa at 3 years old.

“I remember stressing whether I would qualify for in-state tuition, not understanding how I could have grown up in Iowa, and not be a resident,” he said.

Like Davis, Salamanca put his education to use by helping others.

“My lowa education has helped me serve my fellow Americans, serving not just as a deputy sheriff in Colorado, but also serving overseas, receiving my citizenship while deployed in Djibouti, Africa with my infantry unit,” he said. “I have spent the last few years in public service, possible only because of my Iowa education.”

Other attendees called the legislation “hateful” and Rep. Sami Scheetz (D-Cedar Rapids) questioned the necessity of it.

“What is the problem that it’s trying to address,” said Scheetz, who cited chronic underfunding for the state’s regents as a real issue and accused his GOP colleagues of attempting to turn the state’s college into immigration services.

Lobbyists for the Iowa Board of Regents and Iowa Association of Community College Trustees said this would change their acceptance requirements, create more paperwork for the institutions, and create a barrier for people who seek a post-secondary education.

Rep. Skyler Wheeler (R-Hull), a co-sponsor of the bill and a member of the subcommittee, said HF 2128 was “common sense” legislation.

“Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize someone’s higher education if they are not lawfully in our country,” he said. “As mentioned before, there are 24 other states that will use their taxpayers’ money to help pay for the higher education of illegal aliens.”

Wheeler also did not appreciate people calling the bill to take away discounted tuition rates for Iowa kids seeking higher education “hateful.”

“It’s not hateful to ensure American citizenship means something in America,” he said.

Rep. Taylor Collins (R-Mediapolis) is another co-sponsor of the bill and he chaired the subcommittee. He said the legislation was necessary because of President Joe Biden, whose office doesn’t control tuition rates in Iowa.

“If you come to this country illegally, we are not going to subsidize your college education,” Collins said. “The problem is we’ve had 7 million people coming to this country illegally under the leadership of President Joe Biden and at some point, we are going to have to address that issue.”

After the hearing, Davis, who holds degrees from DMAAC and Iowa State University, expressed frustration upon seeing the bill advance.

“It really irritates me because it’s preventing kids from getting their education and striving towards their happiness and making Iowa a better state,” she said.

  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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