Sunday, May 23, 2004

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius has signed legislation that will allow some illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities, instead of the higher out-of-state rate.

Kansas is the eighth state to pass legislation offering tuition breaks to illegal immigrants. Gov. Sebelius, a Democrat, signed the bill Thursday, and it becomes law July 1.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) says such laws discriminate against U.S. citizens, and it intends to challenge the constitutionality of the Kansas measure in court.

“Under the guise of compassion, Gov. Sebelius and the [Republican-dominated] Kansas Legislature are denying educational opportunities and financial assistance to hard-working, law-abiding Kansans and Americans from other states,” said Daniel Stein, executive director of FAIR.

Noting that such benefits are “finite resources,” Mr. Stein said: “The consequences of Gov. Sebelius’ decision is that there are American kids in Kansas who will not get into the University of Kansas or other state-run schools because the governor and state legislators have given their spots to illegal aliens.”

In-state tuition in Kansas is only about one-third the cost of out-of-state fees. For example, in the current semester, in-state tuition for 15 credit hours at Kansas State University is $1,755, compared with $5,700 for undergraduates from other states.

The new Kansas law extends in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who have attended a Kansas high school at least three years and graduated or earned a graduation-equivalency degree.

Mr. Stein held that “college-tuition subsidies are … a good reason to stay in this country illegally,” adding: “America has an enormous and growing illegal population precisely because violating our immigration laws is tolerated and rewarded.”

Despite opposition from several Republican House leaders in the state Legislature, the bill passed the Republican-controlled House, 81-43, in February 2003. It passed the Senate, also dominated by Republicans, earlier this month by a margin of 25-15.

Asked why some Republicans backed the bill, Mike Hethmon, staff counsel for FAIR, said, “superficially, it’s a very sympathetic and easy move for politicians to make.”

Gov. Sebelius’ office could not be reached for comment on the new law.

But during the many months the bill was considered, proponents, including some Republicans, argued that many children in families of illegal immigrants would otherwise not be able to afford higher education. They said children should not be punished for the sins of their parents.

Mr. Hethmon, however, said the bill violates several federal statutes. One such statute, he said, prohibits state or local governments from providing postsecondary educational benefits to undocumented aliens. Another, he said, states that only the federal government can decide who enters the United States and under what conditions they can remain.

As for FAIR’s pending suit against the Kansas law, Mr. Hethmon said the group is “working with a rainbow coalition of two dozen U.S. students from across the country” who may be plaintiffs.

Other states with similar legislation, Mr. Hethmon said, are Texas, California, Utah, Illinois, Washington, New York and Oklahoma. The Kansas City Star said two other states, Georgia and Delaware, have offered the same tuition benefits to illegal immigrants through decisions made by their state boards of higher education.

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