- The Washington Times - Monday, November 16, 2009

CHELSEA, Mass. | It seemed like a given that Mario Rodas would go to college.

The Guatemala-born student certainly had the academic credentials, going from English as a second language (ESL) classes to taking advanced placement exams for college credit his senior year at Chelsea High School.

But paying for it was another matter. As an illegal immigrant in 2005, Mr. Rodas would have had to pay out-of-state tuition fees to go to a public college in Massachusetts, and he couldn’t afford that. If he had lived in Texas or Utah - states that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates - Mr. Rodas, now 22, might have graduated already.

“Every year, we have more and more students in limbo here,” Mr. Rodas said. “And every year, we have more and more students taking advantage [of in-state tuition] elsewhere. I don’t understand.”

Nearly three years after Massachusetts House lawmakers soundly rejected a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates, lawmakers are preparing to revisit the issue.

Activists say 10 states, some dominated by conservative lawmakers, have passed legislation with bipartisan support, and advocates see no reason why Massachusetts, a state controlled by Democrats, can’t do the same.

Undocumented students say they plan to launch a campaign by lobbying key lawmakers and sharing their stories in face-to-face meetings. Meanwhile, activists have cultivated a broader coalition of supporters that includes union members, business leaders and academics - something lacking in 2006.

State Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, Boston Democrat, said the state’s Higher Education Committee is expected to hold hearings on the matter later this year or early next. Ms. Chang-Diaz, a co-sponsor of the bill, said it stands a better chance this time, with increased lobbying efforts and support from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, opposed the measure in 2006.

“Time is our friend here,” Ms. Chang-Diaz said. “We’ve had more time to talk to more people collectively … and get them more comfortable with it.”

On Tuesday, the governor is scheduled to release a list of recommendations from his Advisory Council on Refugees and Immigrants that is expected to include in-state tuition for undocumented students. Mr. Patrick sent the panel around the state last year to take public comment and to come up with suggestions for new immigration policy.

Mr. Rodas, who was granted asylum in the United States after becoming a poster child for the bill in 2006, said most of the immigrant students who would benefit from the proposal arrived in this country when they were young and are culturally American already.

“Most of these students speak English better than their native language now,” Mr. Rodas said.

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