- The Washington Times - Monday, June 2, 2003

In a two-pronged assault by the open-borders lobby, there is a move in Congress and activity in a dozen states to actually grant in-state college tuition to immigrants who have snuck into this country illegally. It is incredible that Congress and various state legislatures are wasting time and money on considering such undeserved generosity — but the fact they are emphasizes how bold this radical lobby has become even in the post-September 11 era.

Under a 1996 federal immigration law, states cannot offer in-state tuition to illegals unless it is offered to all legal U.S. residents, regardless of where they come from. But Texas, California, New York, Oregon, Washington and Utah are trying to circumvent the law by basing their in-state tuition policy for undocumented students on whether they’ve graduated from a state high school after a certain number of years of attendance.

It is unlikely that a move will succeed in Congress to extend legal permanent residence to young people under 21 illegally living on U.S. soil for the past five years — thus facilitating the prospect they’d receive in-state tuition. So, since the beginning of this year, battles have been fought over the issue at the state level. Colorado Gov. Bill Owens recently signed a bill barring any such tuition break. In Virginia, the legislature adopted a similar bill only to see it vetoed by Gov. Mark Warner. All this followed the Maryland legislature’s vote to grant in-state tuition to illegal aliens — vetoed by Gov. Robert Erhlich. Interestingly, some black lawmakers joined conservatives in arguing that breaks for illegals come at the expense of underprivileged citizens who will face increased competition for slots at state colleges and universities.

It was back in 1982 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states must provide a free high school education to every child, even those illegally on American soil. Paradoxically, in that same decision, the high court also said that “like all persons who have entered the United States unlawfully, these children are subject to deportation.” So if the feds don’t remove them — the taxpayers have to educate them!

Then came the 1996 law passed by Congress making it illegal for states to grant any postsecondary education benefits to undocumented foreigners. Since then, apologists for illegal immigration have worked to undermine the rule of law — with the September 11 terror attacks failing to temper their ardor.

It is past time to take this fight to the courts. In fact, immigration reform groups are preparing lawsuits in California — and they appear to have an excellent case. After all, where the practice is allowed, students from other states are treated as second-class citizens to non-citizens who are deportable. There’s a strong “equal protection” argument to be made.

Furthermore, illegal aliens are beginning to get tuition breaks by stealth; that is, some liberal college presidents are simply implementing the practice on their own. At least three Georgia colleges give acknowledged law-breakers “presidential waivers” on out-of-state tuition fees. The amounts vary but consider the fees at just one of these schools, Dalton State. In-state tuition there is $666 per semester for a full-time student, compared with $2,664 for out-of-state residents.

Gainesville College President Martha Nesbitt says she waived out-of-state tuition for illegal immigrants because “I just feel that in the long run it’s better for society if they get a degree.” But the main excuse given by admissions officials at the Georgia schools is that they have no way to identify who’s registered legally or illegally.

That should be unacceptable at a time when the nited States is engaged in a war on terrorism and the president is asking all 50 states to focus on “homeland security.” That excuse should be rejected when the Justice Department is seeking the help of universities in identifying foreign students who have overstayed their visas — all too many from terrorist-supporting countries.

Yet, listen to Arlethia Perry-Johnson, associate vice chancellor to the Georgia Board of Regents, who says: “We don’t have a law enforcement role. The fact that they are illegal should not be something for the university systems to manage.” She also adds this bleeding heart line: “If they’re residents of the state and are trying to better their lives through education, I think we have a responsibility to provide that opportunity.” The problem is they are illegal residents of the state who help add an extra burden on the taxpayer, mock our generous legal immigration system and take slots away from deserving American students.

Americans who believe in the rule of law and border security must gird their loins to support those of us on “the front lines” who support legal action to stop this foolish, expensive and unfair practice. In cases where college presidents unilaterally seek to undermine U.S. immigration law, clear policy must be implemented — set by the state legislature, if university oversight officials won’t do it — on what kind of student identification colleges must accept and who may be given in-state tuition rates.

Phil Kent is president of the Southeastern Legal Foundation.

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