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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Kansas City Star | 05/26/2004 | Kansas tuition law under fire

Kansas City Star | 05/26/2004 | Kansas tuition law under fire

Kansas tuition law under fire

Activist group vows suit over in-state rates for some immigrants

By JIM SULLINGER The Kansas City Star


“We want to rescind the Kansas law or, at the very least, we want Kansas to give in-state tuition to all American citizens who want to go to school there.”

Susan Tully, Midwest field director for the Federation for American Immigration Reform


An immigration reform group based in Washington, D.C., plans to challenge a new Kansas law allowing some undocumented immigrants to attend state universities at in-state tuition rates.

Officials at the Federation for American Immigration Reform said they would file a lawsuit in federal court in Topeka after the law goes into effect July 1.

The federation took out ads recently in campus newspapers at the University of Kansas in Lawrence and Kansas State University in Manhattan seeking plaintiffs to participate in a class action lawsuit.

“We now have plenty,” said Susan Tully, the federation's Midwest field director. “We are basically ready to go.”

Federation officials said the outcome of the Kansas challenge might have national ramifications.

Michael Hethmon, the federation's staff counsel, said Kansas was the seventh state to adopt such a law. He said the six other states are Oklahoma, California, Utah, Texas, Washington and Illinois.

“It's a growing phenomenon,” he said, adding that the federation plans to make Kansas its test case.

The 25-year-old nonprofit organization's objectives are improving border security, stopping illegal immigration and promoting “immigration levels consistent with the national interest — more traditional rates of about 300,000 a year.”

Rep. Sue Storm, an Overland Park Democrat and the legislation's principal sponsor in the Kansas House, said the measure was aimed at helping the children of undocumented and legal immigrants afford a college education in Kansas. The bill doesn't apply to foreign students who are in the U.S. legally.

It would apply, however, to the legal dependents of a family in the United States as political refugees fleeing an oppressive homeland or on a work visa.

To become eligible, an undocumented immigrant must have attended a Kansas high school for three years or received a general education certificate, or GED. Prospective students also must sign an affidavit stating that they are in the process of obtaining citizenship or plan to file for U.S. citizenship. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed the bill last week.

Tully said there was nothing in the new law that required the state to follow up on the affidavit provision to see if the people actually do file for American citizenship.

“That was nothing more than window dressing,” she said.

Supporters of the law said passage was a state issue and that outside groups, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, shouldn't try to interfere.

“Over the years, legislators have been bombarded by national groups … who have a hate-based, racist agenda. And while some would like to think they can merely live in isolation, that fact is we're a very diverse state,” said Sen. David Adkins, a Leawood Republican. “Our economy depends on many of the workers who are here and contributing to our tax base and our communities.”

Opponents of the new law said it was unfair to U.S. citizens.

“First of all, American citizens would have to compete for a (college position) with an illegal alien,” Tully said.

In addition, Tully said Kansas taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize the education of people who are violating U.S. immigration laws.

Currently, the University of Kansas charges $117.55 per credit hour for Kansas residents. Non-resident tuition is $366.75 per credit hour. The federation says it opposes extending public benefits to undocumented immigrants, because they promote more illegal immigration.

Hethmon said Kansas and states with similar laws are violating a federal law passed in 1996 that prohibits giving in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants unless they are offered to all U.S. citizens no matter where they live.

“We want to rescind the Kansas law or, at the very least, we want Kansas to give in-state tuition to all American citizens who want to go to school there,” Tully said.

Hethmon also contended that undocumented residents cannot be residents of a state if they are not U.S. citizens. He said all of the group's objections had been pointed out to lawmakers in testimony before legislative panels in Topeka.

Storm said lawmakers had consulted with attorneys and legal experts to make sure the Kansas statute could withstand a legal challenge.

For example, she said the ability to receive in-state tuition was tied to school attendance rather than state residency.

She said passage of the bill was a major objective of El Centro, a nonprofit organization based in Kansas City, Kan., that provides family services. It has historically aimed those services at the area's Latino community.

Ian Bautista, El Centro's executive director, said he knows many young people who will be helped by the new law.

It may have come too late, he said, for a lot of others.

“It is a moral injustice that there are kids from Kansas high schools graduating valedictorian or salutatorian who in the past have not had any hope of going to a Kansas university,” he said. “Many of them are pushing brooms and flipping hamburgers.”

To reach Jim Sullinger, Kansas government reporter, call

(816) 234-7701 or send e-mail to jsullinger@kcstar.com.

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