Drive Renewed For In-State Tuition For Undocumented Students
Bill In Legislature Would Primarily Help Those Who Came To U.S. Illegally At Young Age
By MARK SPENCER
March 13, 2011
Supporters of allowing students who are illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition, rather than the often cost-prohibitive out-of state-tuition, have launched an aggressive campaign for it in the state legislature for the first time in four years.
The primary beneficiaries of the bill would be students who were brought here illegally by their parents when they were young, but have grown up in Connecticut and attended public schools. Some may not even have been aware they were undocumented until it came time to enroll in college.
Advocates argue that the students find themselves in a quandary not of their making. Those who want to go to college are bright and motivated, but their aspirations for an education, career and contributing role in society have been blocked, said Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
He introduced a bill to allow in-state tuition, which likely will be combined with a bill submitted by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
"These really are young people who are part of the fabric of Connecticut," Looney said.
In recent weeks, a coalition of students, educators and immigration activists has been holding rallies, circulating petitions and contacting legislators. A large crowd is expected at a hearing on the issue before the legislature's higher education committee at 11 a.m. on Tuesday.
The last time the measure came to a vote was in 2007 and it passed the House and the Senate, but with no Republican support. Former Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed it, saying the state should not act until the federal government adopted immigration reform.
Even with Malloy's endorsement, supporters say it will be a tough fight. Werner Oyanadel, acting executive director of the state Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, said the bill's prospects are good in the Senate, but closer in the House.
"They just want this to be fair," Oyanadel said. "The students are not asking for free tuition, they're asking for the right to pay tuition."
House Republican leader Larry Cafero of Norwalk, who voted against in-state tuition in 2007, acknowledged it's an emotional issue that directly affects students. But he said the debate should be about economics. He said the state's public universities and the community college system are at or near capacity, as the recession put private colleges beyond the reach of many students.
He said slots in the state's system should go first to those who are in the country legally.
"More people, because of the economy, are looking to get into these schools," Cafero said. "As in everything, you have winners and losers."
The bill would allow undocumented students who went to school for at least four years in the state, graduated from high school and have been accepted at a higher education institution to pay the lower tuition. For example, in-state tuition at Central Connecticut State University for 2011-12 is expected to be $3,930, compared to out-of-state tuition of $9,113.
Students also would be required to file an affidavit with their school saying they are seeking legal status or will in the future if they become eligible.
Last year, undocumented students and their allies mounted a concerted campaign on behalf of the federal DREAM Act, which would provide those who met a list of criteria a path to eventual citizenship if they went to college or joined the military. The act had the strong support of the Obama administration, passed the House and had majority support in the Senate, but was blocked by a Republican filibuster.
Carolina Bortolleto, who was born in Brazil and brought to Connecticut illegally by her parents when she was 9, was in the Senate gallery when the act did not pass and said she was crushed. A member of Connecticut Students for a Dream, she said the group is now focusing its efforts on the in-state tuition bill.
"All Connecticut students deserve equal access to higher education, regardless of their status," Bortolleto said.
Ten states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, while three states explicitly prohibit it and three prohibit such students from attending some or all of their public colleges and universities. Courts have upheld the legality of in-state tuition, although several cases are pending.
Although it's unclear how many students would qualify in Connecticut, in 2007 supporters estimated about 250 students would be eligible.
The Office of Fiscal Analysis estimated at the time that the state university and community college systems could gain revenue if additional students enrolled. Enrollment in both systems has increased dramatically since then, so it's unclear how much room is available.
The report said the University of Connecticut could potentially lose revenue if students were allowed to pay the lower tuition, because it was close to capacity. A UConn spokesman said Friday it was rare for undocumented students to enroll in the school.
"I may be undocumented, but I'm as American as anyone else," said Bortolleto, who hopes for a career as a research scientist. "I just don't have a piece of paper."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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