Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, smiled as she spoke with DACA recipients at the Capitol in Richmond on Thursday. Behind her are Estefania de la Rosa (left), 20, and Nicte Diaz Cortes, 21, both students at VCU.

Beneficiaries of a program that shields the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation are one step closer to receiving in-state tuition in Virginia.

The Senate Committee on Education and Health on Thursday narrowly approved Senate Bill 1640 from Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, under which recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and other people who have applied for permanent residency in the U.S. would pay in-state tuition rates at state schools. The bill is now headed to the Senate Finance Committee.

The Republican-led Education and Health Committee had defeated the bill in the past.

“To actually be getting traction and get it out of committee is enormous,” Boysko told a group of supporters outside the committee room after the 8-7 vote.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, was the deciding vote and the only Republican to vote in favor of the bill.

Before voting, the education committee heard from about a dozen supporters of the bill, including some “Dreamers,” a common nickname for DACA recipients. No one spoke in opposition to the bill.

“This lets a lot of people not miss out on an opportunity,” said Ernestine Locsin, a DACA recipient.

Advocates for in-state tuition for the recipients say it’s an economic development issue.

“It’s just in the commonwealth’s best interest,” said Sen. David Marsden, D-Fairfax, whose DACA tuition bill was folded into Boysko’s bill.

Said Boysko: “We need to make it easier for immigrants to be in our economy — not harder.”

More than 20 states offer in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

At Virginia Commonwealth University, for example, tuition and fees for in-state students this year is $14,490, while out-of-state students pay $35,798.

Last academic year, Virginia public colleges enrolled more than 1,400 DACA recipients. The vast majority of them — 1,358 of 1,413 — lived in Virginia.

Then-President Barack Obama put DACA in place in 2012 through executive order. It provides work permits and temporary protection from deportation for about 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. by their parents.

The Trump administration announced in September 2017 a plan to phase out the program. More than a year later, it still exists.

Trump initially set a six-month deadline for Congress to pass similar protections for DACA recipients or have the two-year permits expire. Federal judges stopped the efforts to end DACA and ordered the administration to renew existing protections.

The bill still would have to make it through the Senate Finance Committee to reach the Senate floor.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said VCU student Estefania de la Rosa, who benefits from the policy.

A similar bill has been filed in the House of Delegates by Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax.

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Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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