Illegal Immigrants Get Resident Tuition
SALEM, Ore. (AP) _ Nineteen-year-old Francisco Urenda wants to become a doctor. The state of Oregon may help him make his dream come true _ even though he is an illegal immigrant.
Oregon may be about to join a growing number states that are offering cheaper, in-state college tuition rates to illegal immigrants in a move supporters say will help them become productive, taxpaying members of society. Opponents say the idea will only encourage illegal immigration.
Without the change in Oregon’s law, Urenda, who came to the United States from Mexico after being orphaned at 10 and is now a freshman at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, worries he will not be able to move on to a four-year college and get the degree he needs to go to medical school.
``This affects people who only want a better future but can’t get it,″ he said.
As a boy in a farming village in the Mexican state of Michoacan, Urenda dreamed of being like the paramedics he watched on TV’s ``COPS.″ He arrived in California to live with relatives and later moved to Oregon, where he became the first person in his family to graduate from high school. He has lived in Oregon for five years.
A bill pending in the Oregon Legislature would allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition as long as they graduate from an Oregon high school, have lived at least three consecutive years in the state and show they are in the process of getting legal residency.
The bill has passed the Senate and seems to have a chance in the Republican-controlled House, despite Oregon’s worst budget crisis in decades.
Supported by Democrats and many Republicans, the measure reflects the growing importance of the state’s Hispanic population, which has doubled in the past decade to more than 275,000 out of Oregon’s 3.4 million people.
``This is about fairness,″ said Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat who introduced the bill.
Jim Moore, a political analyst, said there is more at play here than altruism: ``Republicans and Democrats are trying to get the Latino community to support their parties. The Latino community is up for grabs.″
The savings for illegal immigrants could be considerable. In-state students at the University of Oregon next year will pay $4,875 in tuition and fees, while other students will pay about four times as much.
Washington state, California, New York, Illinois, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah have passed bills that let illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition, and more than a dozen other states are considering similar proposals.
``If they get an education, earn more money and pay more taxes, overall those numbers dwarf the cost of education,″ said Josh Bernstein from the National Immigration Law Center, an advocacy group in Los Angeles.
Exactly how many illegal immigrants might take advantage of the offer is not clear. Oregon’s seven public universities say they have only 17 known illegal students out of an enrollment of 59,000. Perhaps because of that, the potential cost has not become a major issue.
Critics of the bill have instead complained that the measure would encourage illegal immigration and squeeze legal residents out of an education.
``This is a slap in the face to everyone who believes in the rule of law,″ said Jim Ludwick, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform. ``No matter what you do for these people, it’s not enough, they want more. The sky is the limit.″
The Urban Institute, a Washington-based economic and social policy research group, estimates that nationally there are between 50,000 and 65,000 college-bound high school graduates who are illegal immigrants.
Congress is considering extending legal permanent residence to those under 21 who have lived in the United States at least five years.
Under the 1996 federal immigration-reform law, states cannot offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants unless they also offer it to all legal U.S. residents, regardless of what state they come from.
California and the other states have gotten around the law by basing their in-state tuition policy for illegal students on whether they graduated from an in-state school after a certain number of years of attendance.
Anti-immigration groups are preparing lawsuits in California, claiming the law is being violated for the benefit of those who have entered the country illegally.
``As line-jumpers, they are trying to benefit from illegal conduct in ways that are grossly unfair,″ said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform.
The Oregon bill was initiated by Laura Lanka, principal of Woodburn High School, where 60 percent of the 1,200 students are Hispanic. She said dozens of good students graduate each year and do not go on to college because they cannot afford it.
``We are not talking about students who speak with an accent. Some have been here their entire schooling since kindergarten,″ she said.
``I always told them that if they graduated with the right grades and good SAT scores I would help them get into a four-year university.″
On the Net:
Oregon Legislature: www.leg.state.or.us