- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. The Arkansas Senate on Monday rejected letting the children of illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities after opponents questioned the offer’s legality and possibility it would attract more immigrants.

Sponsor Sen. Joyce Elliott said the bill was a way to offer higher education opportunities to students who are already in Arkansas but cannot afford the out-of-state rates they must currently pay.

“The bottom line is this: They are in our state. They are not leaving,” the Democrat said. “We can choose to have them here as educated people, or we can choose to have them here as folks that we deny an education to. That’s our choice.”

The proposal to grant in-state rates to anyone who has attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has an Arkansas high school diploma failed on 13-21 vote. Elliott said she may bring back the measure if she can find more votes.

She has said 10 other states already offer the tuition break. But its Arkansas opponents said they were worried it would violate federal law and reward illegal immigration.

“Are we going to encourage people to do things legally, or are we going to encourage people to do things illegally?” said Sen. Denny Altes, a Republican who voted against the proposal.

Gov. Mike Beebe has said the tuition break could violate federal law. As attorney general in 2005, Beebe issued a legal opinion that said it could violate a 1996 federal law that said no higher education benefit could be made available to illegal immigrants’ children unless it was also available to every U.S. citizen.

Elliott says she thinks the law could be interpreted to allow the state to offer the in-state tuition rates to the children of illegal immigrants and anyone else who meets the other requirements of attending school in the state for at least three years and having a diploma from a state high school.

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