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Plan to Extend In-State Tuition to Illegal Immigrants Raises Concerns

Lawmakers were surprised this week by Gov. Deval Patrick's statements that some illegal immigrants should pay in-state tuition at state universities and colleges.

Thousands of illegal immigrants living in Massachusetts can qualify for state resident tuition rates at state colleges, under a policy laid out on Monday by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Patrick took state legislators by surprise when he told college and university officials that illegal immigrants who obtain a federal work permit should pay in-state tuition.

In statements to the media on Monday, Patrick said that the policy is in line with what President Obama authorized last summer — that young illegal immigrants, who were brought here before age 16 with their parents, could obtain a federal work permit and remain in the U.S. without threat of deportation. He said that students who have obtained these work permits in the past have paid in-state tuition, according to a report in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.

But some legislators are concerned abou the financial impact, and whether the extension of a tuition break could result in more illegal immigrants moving into Massachusetts.

The legislature had debated the issue of state tuition rates for illegal immigrants several times, and ultimately said no to extending a tuition break to college-age children of illegal immigrants, according to state Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge).

"I think he owes an explanation to the legislature, if not the public, why he believes the president's executive order changes things," Moore said.

Moore said he was taken by surprise by the governor's directive, and questioned whether Patrick had analyzed the financial impact on state institutions. Tuition rates for in-state students are subsidized by state taxes, he said. Out-of-state students can pay more than twice the per-credit rate of in-state students at some colleges. 

In his executive order, President Obama did not address the issue of in-state tuition for people who qualify for the federal work permits, instead, leaving it to the states to decide, according to Moore.

Moore said in addition to the fiscal impact, he wonders if the policy change in Massachusetts ultimately could result in some seats at the competitive state universities or colleges going to recent immigrants, and not young adults who have spent their lives in Massachusetts.

"I don't want to be anti-immigrant. I would like to make sure we're doing it right. It seems we're going into this policy change rather blindly."

Moore sponsored legislation last year with state Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford) that would have required students gaining in-state tuition to meet eligibility requirements, including citizenship.

Officials say there are very few illegal immigrants currently enrolled who might benefit from the in-state tuition discount; the much larger effect will be in encouraging others to enroll. They estimate that Massachusetts has 15,000 to 17,000 residents in the age group affected by the change in the deportation policy; they would not guess how many might take advantage of new state and federal rules.

“Our experience has been that the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is a prohibitive barrier,” said Paul Reville, the state’s secretary of education told the New York Times.

There is a large difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates. For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, charges state residents $13,230 in tuition and fees; students from outside the state pay more than twice as much, $26,645.

“Some states are playing real hardball on college tuition and other benefits, while others are moving toward accommodation, and it’s changing all the time,” said Michael A. Olivas, a University of Houston law professor who tracks the issue around the country.

By his count, 12 states have laws allowing illegal immigrants to claim state residency and pay in-state tuition; this month, Maryland became the first to adopt such a law by popular vote. The others are California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.

Aaron November 21, 2012 at 06:31 PM
This is sickening
Ned Price November 21, 2012 at 11:09 PM
The federal law of 1996 prohibits this but Patrick and others who pander to illegal aliens get around the requirement by subterfuge Read the accompanying article. http://www.ncsl.org/issues-research/educ/undocumented-student-tuition-overview.aspx Ned Price
Aaron November 22, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Patrick and those like him are running our state and country into the ground.
Taxed More November 22, 2012 at 10:57 PM
If breaking the law is rewarded with the kids being eligible for thousands of taxpayer dollars, I guess breaking the law is OK.
Kira Gagarin November 23, 2012 at 03:10 AM
Its about time all the kids that live in Massachusetts have an opportunity at a college education. Proud of our Governor for this important step. Hard to understand how anyone can say anything bad about granting those who live in Massachusetts, have finished high school here, and are accepted into university, an opportunity to further their education. So excited that these kids I work with on a daily basis are getting these opportunities. I am positive they will make their country proud.
Kira Gagarin November 23, 2012 at 03:49 AM
Great article. Did you miss where the law stipulates that each state decides the requirements for its institutions? Who gets in state tuition and also who can get state aid? So Patrick and the other 12 States aren't "getting around" anything, they are making decisions for their states as elected officials. The problem is that undocumented youth can't (or couldn't) get in state tuition rates AND can't get aid or loans - which makes a higher education impossible for many. I'm surprised Texas is one of the 3 states that grants undocumented youth state aid. Thanks for sharing, very good read.
Ned Price November 23, 2012 at 04:35 PM
The federal law is being subverted (albeit legally) by saying in effect that a resident of Texas can get in-state tuition in Massachusetts as long as they have graduated from a Massachusetts high school just like the illegal alien did Therefore if say a Texas parent wishes to send their kid to Deerfield Prep for high school they also will get the same benefits as the alien does This makes a mockery of the federal law which requires equal treatment of all if illegal aliens are granted tuition benefits

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