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Possible scholarships to ‘Dreamers’ draw lawmakers’ focus

Boise State University campus. Photo by Liz Patterson Harbauer

Boise State University potentially offering state scholarship money to students brought to the United States illegally as children could be the subject of legislation next year.

Emails obtained by the Idaho Statesman show the subject being discussed between an anti-regulatory, low-tax group and Republican lawmakers.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation in a June 6 email told lawmakers on education and budget committees that Boise State “is going in an increasingly radical direction.”

The emails were touched off by a June newsletter by then-Interim BSU President Martin Schimpf, who said that the State Board of Education had invited Dreamers to apply for the scholarships.

People brought to the U.S. illegally as children are often referred to as “Dreamers,” based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act. The students are temporary protected from deportation by the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

The Opportunity Scholarship offers up to $3,500 to eligible Idahoans seeking an undergraduate degree at an in-state school. In 2018, more than 4,000 students applied for the scholarships.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder of Boise responded to the Idaho Freedom Foundation message that offering the scholarships was problematic.

“My read is that it likely would require legislative action based on the definitions of ‘resident’ for tuition purposes — and perhaps (Education) Board action as well,” Winder said in a July 11 letter to Fred Birnbaum, Idaho Freedom Foundation vice president. “It would additionally require Congressional Action based on the ‘lawful presence’ determination that may need to occur.”

Birnbaum told the newspaper that the Idaho Freedom Foundation would support blocking Dreamers from getting the scholarships.

“We believe that it is an important public policy issue to prioritize Idahoans who are U.S. citizens to receive these limited opportunity scholarship dollars,” he said.

Boise State spokesman Greg Hahn said the school believes Dreamers are eligible for the scholarships.

“Since they have applied for and received deferred action on any immigration decisions, they are in the state legally, and that is the requirement in state law,” Hahn wrote in an email to the newspaper.

Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane in a response to Winder didn’t say whether Dreamers qualified as “lawfully present” Idaho residents.

“The basis for the quoted statement from Interim BSU President Schimpf is unclear,” Kane wrote to Winder on July 11. “The Board of Education has not issued an invitation to DACA students to apply for the Opportunity Scholarship.”

An estimated 3,000 Dreamers live in Idaho, though it’s not clear how many are in Idaho’s school system.

“It’s not the children’s fault that their parents came to the U.S., for whatever reason they came,” said Margie Gonzalez, executive director of the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs. “They came to the U.S. to follow their dreams. It’s hard for me to accept we aren’t going to treat them equally.”

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