- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 19, 2002

My sense of fairness was shaped by my Uncle James, the man who raised me after my grandmother and I moved to California in the late 1940s. Uncle James made most of his important decisions in life based on what a college professor of mine, Robert Thompson, called his "knower." A "knower" is that part of your psyche that just knows what is right and what is wrong. All of us have one, but sometimes we choose to ignore what it is telling us.

And it seems to me that California Gov. Gray Davis, members of the California legislature, and the regents of the University of California (UC) system, are ignoring their knowers over the issue of college tuition breaks for illegal aliens.

Here's what's happened: Guided by a desire to give "equitable treatment" to the sons and daughters of illegal immigrants, on the rationale that children should not be held responsible for the conduct of their parents, the regents voted 17-5 (with yours truly being in the minority of that vote) to charge illegal immigrants less to attend California public universities than U.S. citizens who live in, say, Phoenix or Denver. The requirements to qualify for this subsidy are that the student must have attended a California high school for three years, graduated from high school, and file an affidavit declaring intent to seek American citizenship.

That's right. Every citizen living legally in the other 49 states will be charged a higher tuition rate in California than illegal immigrants who happen to be in California. My knower knows this is just flat wrong.

As a regent of the UC system, I know that the citizens of my state, as well as federal taxpayers, subsidize each graduate and undergraduate student's tuition to the tune of thousands of dollars each year. That is a price California citizens, largely, must pay in state taxes to ensure a top-notch university system one that is envied throughout the country. California residents pay $3,859 in yearly tuition to attend UC, while out-of-state students pay nearly $15,000 for the same education.

I am not unsympathetic to the millions of individuals throughout the world who want to come to California to earn a decent living and pursue opportunity and freedom. But, our federal laws are crystal clear about illegal immigration. These laws should not be cavalierly ignored or even given a big wink. It is wrong to confer a benefit on illegal residents that we do not confer on our own citizens. This is a shameful devaluation of the privilege of American citizenship, to say nothing of the inducement to greater illegal entry into the United States.

How can we ask the working families of California many of whom have taken out sizable loans to finance their children's college education and many of whom will never be able to afford to send their children to college to subsidize the education of those who should not be in our country at all?

Not to be overlooked is the fact that hundreds of thousands of Californians are unemployed, due in large part to the attack against our nation by individuals who were in our country as a result of lax immigration policies and controls. Haven't we learned anything at all from the events of September 11 and subsequent thereto?

Furthermore, why would any legal foreign student pay out-of-state tuition at a UC campus when by becoming illegal he or she can get a huge annual tuition cut of about $11,000?

Few are suggesting that the children of illegal residents shouldn't be allowed to attend college in California, provided that they are not a threat to national security. However, they should play by the same rules as American citizens who live in other states and simply pay out-of state tuition. This is not much to ask.

Our state has spent billions of dollars that's right, billions providing illegal residents with emergency and preventative health care and other public benefits through an enormous network of hospitals and medical clinics and other taxpayer-financed expenditures. These subsidies are appropriate because our nation has a commitment to provide relief to any man, woman or child whose life and health is endangered. These are the Judeo-Christian tenets on which our culture is founded.

But, college tuition subsidies are different from health care, primarily because no one needs a college degree to sustain health and welfare. And education is not a "human right," as some of the proponents of this goofy attitude about tuition subsidies for illegals suggest.

At the end of the day, the implementation of this policy means the state of California gets to write its own, unique immigration laws. Funny I don't recall the U.S. Constitution providing such an exemption.

Ward Connerly is chairman of the American Civil Rights Institute.

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