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DALLAS — Two Texas veterans are challenging a state policy barring them from receiving college tuition waivers because they were legal residents but not yet U.S. citizens when they entered the service.
Attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund announced the federal lawsuit Thursday in San Antonio. The Latino advocacy group is suing on behalf of Raul Dominguez and Naser Alzer, two honorably discharged veterans who served in the Gulf War and have since become U.S. citizens, and the American GI Forum of Texas, a veterans advocacy group.
The case focuses on the veterans' exclusion from the Texas Hazlewood Act, a benefit that exempts those who were legal residents of Texas at the time they entered the military from paying tuition and some fees at state colleges.
"Our clients simply want to enjoy the same benefits received by native-born Texas veterans," said Carlos Becerra, a MALDEF staff attorney. "After having honorably served their country in the military, it is only fair that veterans who entered the military as legal permanent residents be afforded the same educational opportunities as those veterans who entered the military as citizens."
Both plaintiffs are college graduates who have exhausted the money from their GI bill. Dominguez, of Amarillo, wants to obtain a master's degree in education from West Texas A&M in Canyon. Alzer, of Austin, wants to seek a Ph.D. in finance from the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Typically, someone in their position could depend on the Hazlewood Act to continue their education. But the application for the Hazlewood waiver asks whether the applicant was a U.S. citizen upon entering the military. If the answer is no, the application instructs the person not to continue the process.
"This deters many veterans who otherwise would have applied for the Hazlewood exemption," Becerra said.
A call seeking comment from the state Attorney General's Office was not immediately returned.