- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 26, 2003

House members in Washington state have overwhelmingly passed a bill allowing illegal aliens mainly Hispanics to attend the state's public colleges and universities at resident-tuition rates, provided they agree to take civics or citizenship courses.
The bill, passed last week by a 75-20 vote, expands the definition of resident student for the purpose of tuition to include those who have "achieved academically in Washington's high schools," including those in the country illegally.
Aimed at what supporters called the "many undocumented families" now in the state's labor market, the bill has broad support in the state Senate and is expected to pass when it comes up for a vote next month. It gives children of "laboring families" what supporters called an "opportunity for an affordable education."
"It's not a special right but rather an issue of fairness and equity," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Phyllis Gutierrez-Kenney, Seattle Democrat and head of the House Committee on Higher Education. She has said the bill, when passed, would help about 100 students in its first year.
California and Texas have similar tuition laws and Virginia currently lets illegal aliens pay resident-tuition rates, although pending legislation would require undocumented aliens to pay out-of-state tuition fees. The Virginia bill passed the Senate 27-13, while the House passed it 88-10 last month. Gov. Mark Warner is reviewing the measure.
Jack Martin, special projects director at the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform, said states that allow resident-tuition rates for illegal aliens are defying federal legislation that, among other things, targeted in-state tuition.
The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996, which enhanced border enforcement, said illegal aliens could not be classified as residents of a state to qualify for postsecondary education benefits, including in-state tuition, unless residents of other states also qualified for the benefit.
"This is a conflict that has not yet been resolved in a court of law," Mr. Martin said.
Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman Bill Strassberger said regardless of what a state does concerning tuition rates, it does not change the immigration status of those in the country illegally.
But, he said, INS has to prioritize cases based on the agency's available resources and manpower.
"Many cases are reported to INS each day and given the resources, the highest priority has been criminal aliens, those who have committed serious and often violent crime," he said.
Hispanics form the largest minority in Washington state, at 7.6 percent of the population. Census figures show the state's Hispanic population grew by 106 percent in the past decade. Earlier this month, INS estimated the number of illegal aliens in Washington state at 136,000 more than double the previous estimate of 52,000 in 1996.
Under the House bill, an illegal-alien student qualifies as a resident for tuition purposes if he or she attended at least three years of high school in Washington, graduated from a Washington high school or obtained the equivalent of a Washington diploma, and agrees to apply for permanent residence and "engage in activities necessary to acquire citizenship prior to completing a certificate or degree program."
The bill, which neither provides money for migrant children nor lowers entrance requirements, also requires the student to "take any civics or a citizenship courses required" for U.S. citizenship.
Supporters said during lengthy floor speeches that letting high school graduates continue their education at an affordable rate would help battle poverty.
They said the bill also would increase diversity and the quality of student populations at the state colleges and universities.
Immigration laws often were a barrier to illegal aliens becoming documented, they said.
The difference between resident and nonresident undergraduate tuition rates varies from $5,200 per academic year at the state's community and technical colleges, to $7,700 at Washington State University, to $10,700 at the University of Washington.
Current factors used to determine students' eligibility for resident tuition include financial dependence or independence; their permanent home state; where they attended or graduated from high school; and the military status of the students or their parents.
They include whether the student is a member of a federally recognized Indian tribe or is attending under a tuition agreement with another state.

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