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The Sacramento Bee


Should In-State Tuition Be Available To Kids Brought Here Illegally?

September 28, 2011

By Ben Boychuk

THE ISSUE: In a GOP presidential debate last week, Texas Gov. Rick Perry defended his signing of a 2001 Texas law that granted in-state tuition and state financial aid to students educated in Texas high schools without regard to their immigration status. If you oppose the law, Perry said, “I don’t think you have a heart.”

Should in-state tuition be available to kids brought here illegally?

Pia Lopez: Yes, with conditions

Adults who enter the country illegally or overstay their visas are breaking U.S. immigration laws. But does that mean that their 4-month-olds, 4-year-olds or 14-year-olds – brought here through no choice of their own – are transgressors?

Absolutely not.

To me, this is a moral, as well as a practical issue.

A policy of “generational curses,” punishing children for the actions of their parents, to me is morally repugnant – visiting upon innocent children “punishment for their father’s iniquity,” as the Old Testament puts it.

In practical terms, would we rather that kids living here be educated, productive members of society if they’ve graduated from American high schools – where we have already invested in their education?

Or would we rather have them on the streets, in the shadow economy, essentially in limboland – having little or no attachment to their parents’ country but not welcome here because our political leaders cannot agree on a rational immigration policy?

I don’t agree with Texas Gov. Rick Perry on much, but I believe he is right on this one. This was his full quote in the debate: “If you say that we should not educate children who come into our state for no other reason than that they’ve been brought there through no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart. We need to be educating these children, because they will become a drag on our society.”

The audience booed. To his credit, Perry has not backed off on this most contentious of issues.

These children are Texas residents for three or more years who graduated from a Texas high school – and who have signed affidavits promising to apply for legal status as soon as they are allowed to do so. Texas was the first state in the country to pass such a law. California and other states came later.

According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, 16,476 students in fall 2010 qualified for in-state tuition under Texas House Bill 1403 – out of more than 1.8 million. That’s less than 1 percent of total enrollment in Texas public colleges and universities. The outcry is utterly disproportionate.

The one sour note is that Perry is attempting the same state-federal gyrations that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has attempted on health care.

His policy on kids brought here through no decision of their own, raised here, schooled here and with little or no connection with their parents’ country of origin, Perry says, is appropriate for Texas, but not for the nation.

That would make the Texas HB 1403 affidavits on seeking legal status a dead letter. No path for these kids to legal employment or citizenship after being educated here. Now, that’s heartless.

Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.

Ben Boychuk: No, enough welfare

At the risk of sounding heartless, extending in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants shouldn’t even break the top 100 on any list of American public policy priorities. Pia is right that the outcry is disproportionate, but for the wrong reason.

The question is, why an outcry in the first place? Some critics would snark, “Because Republicans are racist?” Don’t be silly.

No, it’s because our immigration system is hopelessly broken and unjust. And so is the welfare system.

Just as it’s obvious a country cannot have free immigration and a welfare state, it’s also obvious America cannot have proper immigration reform without proper welfare reform.

Conservatives’ frustration with illegal immigration might be summarized this way: You are taught to obey the law, play by the rules, and work hard. You try to build a nice life for yourself and your family. You pay your taxes – maybe not cheerfully, but you pay. You save for your kids’ college education, which is getting more expensive by the year.

You believe in the American dream – a dream shared by millions of people who arrived here from all over the world, looking for a better life.

And then some guy in a $2,000 suit tells you that millions of people who broke the law the instant they entered the country should get a subsidized education, subsidized health care, subsidized food stamps, a subsidized college education and maybe even a shortcut to citizenship because to do otherwise would risk making them “a drag on society.”

For real?

Now comes the objection: Most illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America come not for welfare but for work. And that’s mostly true.

It’s also true, as the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector pointed out a few years ago, that a low-skill immigrant family – legal or illegal – will receive, on average, about $30,000 a year in government benefits and services while paying around $10,000 in taxes.

A sane immigration system would make it easy for, say, farmers to hire foreign seasonal labor. Migrant workers could come and go as needed. They wouldn’t need to settle here with their families, and there would be no talk of amnesty, a “path to citizenship,” or crazy policies like subsidized college tuition. We used to have a system just like that.

I realize that to get there we will need to address what to do about children of illegal immigrants who arrived at a very early age and know no other country.

But let’s not let the hard cases shape – or undermine – our broader national immigration policy.

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