- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 15, 2004

Virginia Republicans and Democrats agreed yesterday that state colleges should enroll illegal aliens but they disagreed on whether illegals be required to pay the much higher out-of-state tuition rates.

Some Republicans said yesterday any attempts by Democrats to submit bills that would allow illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition will be defeated since most Republicans argue illegals shouldn’t be rewarded with the lower rates.

“Illegal immigrants should be able to attend, but they should pay the full rate,” said Sen. Jay O’Brien, Fairfax County Republican.

Several Democrats said the in-state tuition issue likely will resurface during next year’s General Assembly session, which begins in January. Virginia law currently requires that illegal immigrants pay out-of-state tuition rates.

“Many of these kids that we’re talking about have received their diplomas, and why should they be penalized from furthering an education that they’ve already pursued?” asked Delegate Albert C. Eisenberg, Arlington Democrat. “Why deny them the ability to go on to a college education and pay for it in the same manner as other residents just like them? Paying out-of-state tuition could stunt their educational growth.”

The politicians comments come in response to a federal judge’s ruling that illegals have no right to sue state colleges and universities for refusing to enroll them.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said in February that colleges are within their rights to deny admission to illegal aliens. However, in an opinion released yesterday, the judge wrote that he would not issue a formal decision on whether illegal immigrants can attend public colleges and did not address the tuition issue.

“Nothing in this opinion … is intended to indicate any view on whether [colleges] should or should not, as a matter of public policy, deny admission to illegal aliens,” Judge Ellis wrote in his 29-page opinion.

Earlier this month, Judge Ellis dismissed charges by a group of illegal aliens who said seven state colleges were violating the Constitution by refusing to enroll them. The judge, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan in 1987, ruled that the illegal aliens who sued the colleges lacked legal standing, and that only a legal applicant could raise a claim.

Several of the colleges named in the lawsuit do not check immigration status of students.

Virgnia Gov. Mark Warner’s spokeswoman Ellen Qualls said yesterday that the governor finds it “unreasonable” to have a blanket ban on illegal aliens attending college.

Miss Qualls referred to Mr. Warner’s veto last year of a bill that would bar illegal aliens from paying in-state tuition at state colleges. The bill clarified existing state law that requires aliens to pay out-of-state tuition, which can be three to four times more than the rate Virginia residents pay.

Mr. Warner, a Democrat, had proposed an amendment that would allow in-state tuition for aliens who can prove they had graduated from a Virginia high school, lived in the state for five years, and were seeking to legalize their immigration status and whose families have paid state taxes for three years. The state legislature rejected his amendments and the governor vetoed the bill, saying it would have contributed to anti-immigrant sentiment in the country.

Mr. Warner, who often grants interviews in Spanish, had said his amendments would have helped a small group “live the American Dream.”

“Many of these students hold the potential to become contributing members of our society,” he said. “It is only fair that this narrowly targeted group of students — whose parents paid Virginia income taxes — have the chance to receive in-state tuition.”

California, Texas, New York and Utah allow illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition.

Delegate Jeffrey M. Frederick, Prince William County Republican and the legislature’s only Hispanic member, said illegal aliens should not be allowed in-state tuition, but said enrollment should be open to anyone.

“We shouldn’t reward the people that didn’t follow the rules by giving them in-state tuition,” said Mr. Frederick, who has relatives in Colombia. “It sends the wrong message and from a personal standpoint, it’s not fair to my family.”

He said some of his relatives are waiting to come to the United States. “But they don’t because they are following the law and standing in line,” he said.

However, Mr. Frederick said he appreciates illegal immigrants who want to build better lives by attending college. But, “I don’t think the colleges and universities should be doing the work of our immigration service,” he said.

Mr. O’Brien said attempts to offer in-state tuition to illegals are unfair to U.S. citizens such as military dependents who are not eligible to receive the benefit. He said efforts to change this next year would be futile. “If the Democrats decide to offer that, I’m sure it would fail,” he said.

Mr. Eisenberg, who supported the in-state tuition efforts this year, said he will continue to advocate for a change in state law. “A lot of good ideas do not necessarily meet with approval on the first vote,” he said.

The chances of legislation on either side of the issue passing the Republican-controlled legislature during an election year are slim. All 100 House delegates are up for re-election in 2005.

The difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can be significant. The Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) system charges in-state residents $203.04 for each three-credit class; out-of-state residents pay $645.39, according to its 2004 online course catalog.

NVCC does not require students to verify their immigration status to enroll. They do have to prove they are legal to get in-state tuition, however.

Earlier this year, lawmakers rejected a bill that would have banned illegal aliens from attending public colleges and universities, requiring the schools to turn away illegals and expel those who are mistakenly enrolled.

Delegate John S. “Jack” Reid, Henrico County Republican who authored the bill, had said he felt it is “not appropriate” for schools to give away slots to persons who are in the country illegally, and that those persons take away seats from legal residents.

Lawmakers also rejected a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition if they met certain criteria, including signing a pledge to seek legal residency.

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