May 9, 2003


The debate for in-state tuition fees regardless of immigration status: the right to education

By Emmanuelle Le Texier

U.S. Representatives Howard Berman (D-California), Lucile Roybal-Allard (D-California) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah), proposed a bill in the House of Representatives, called the Student Adjustment Act. The U.S. Senate version is untitled the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). The DREAM Act would grant residency status to immigrants “of good moral character between the ages of 12 and 21 who have lived in the United States for at least 5 years and to high school graduates under age 25 who are enrolled in a college or university”. The Student Adjustment Act would do the same with students enrolled in seventh grade or above who have lived in the country for at least 5 years.

In brief, it would allow immigrants headed for colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status, to be eligible to become U.S. residents and not have to pay out-of-state tuition fees. Last year, this legislation failed because Republicans’ opposition.

Nevertheless, in California, Utah, New York, and Texas, state legislatures have already approved similar plans before the federal law. But the debates are still very tense in other states. In Maryland, the legislation House Bill 1079 was sponsored by Gwendoyn Britt and Sheila Hixson (both Democrats) to allow undocumented students to attend public universities at in-state tuition rates. It passed both chambers on April 7th, 2003, but Governor Ehrlich’s position is not determined yet.

In Oregon, Peter Courtney (D) and Billy Dalto (R) sponsored Senate Bill 10, for students who have attended high school in Oregon for more than three consecutive years, received a diploma and plan to become U.S citizens or legal residents. On May 1st, Governor Warner vetoed HB 2339 legislation that intended to bar undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates in Virginia. On the opposite side, in Colorado, the House has just overturned HB 1178, which was calling for in-state tuition. In Kansas, the Board of regents passed a resolution on April 17th to endorse a House Bill that requires that the students have spent at least three years at a Kansas high school and have graduated or earned a GED. The House passed the Bill but the senate delayed the vote for a 2004. Other 14 states are debating similar legislation that has consequences on the most basic right: the right to education.

The debates are intense because various organizations oppose it, led in particular by think tanks, like the Washington D.C-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) or the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). These groups also campaigned strongly against legislation that would allow undocumented immigrants the right to apply for driving licenses and to exercise their right to work. They are also known for their vivid criticisms against the Mexican matricula consular, arguing that the Mexican consular ID card acceptance would mean an ”amnesty for illegal aliens”.

In Oregon, members of the anti-immigrant organization Oregonians for Immigration Reform said that a federal bill that would allow in-state tuition fees for students regardless of their immigration status is “rewarding law-breakers” and triggers a ”demographic invasion”, while others feared it would harm homeland security.

These arguments are not only unconvincing but also disrespectful of the basic right to education.

First, the students who would qualify in this process would be rather marginal in numbers - an estimate of between 50.000 and 65.000 students could benefit from it countrywide.

Second, the students have not done anything illegal. They work hard at school; they are rewarded by the possibility to access higher education. Their parents have lived in the U.S., they pay taxes and are part of the community. These students for all intents and purpose are U. S., they were educated here, they speak the language, and they have adopted the culture, and are continuing the American dream seeking the highest education possible.

Third, the fact that students cannot afford to pay out-state tuition fees should not be an impediment to education.

The out-state tuition fees not only stop their dream of pursuing higher education but also violate the right to have access to education for children of immigrants’ working-class families. In 1982, the U.S Supreme Court ruled “states must provide a free education through high school to children illegally in the country”. This rule should be enforced at college and universities levels by charging the lowest tuition fees possible for low-income immigrants families.

During the celebration of the Dia del niño children sang “Queremos paz y escuelas...”

Fourth, to prohibit access to higher education means that the country does not want either skilled workers or educated citizens. It is nonsense when building the future of a country. During the celebration of the Dia del niño, organized last week by the Comité de Mujeres Patricia Marin, in Chicano Park, children sang: “Queremos paz y escuelas, no queremos guerra. We want peace and schools, no war”.

Let’s listen to the voice of these children, as they pointed out that to go to school and university is the basic right to education, they are entitled to it.

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