Saturday, July 03, 2004

MetroWest Daily News - Taxpayer Funded College Tuitions for Illegal Aliens

MetroWest Daily News - Columnists

In America: 'Concerned' about all students
By Miryam Wiley
Saturday, July 3, 2004

Last week, when Gov. Mitt Romney failed to sign the bill to allow certain immigrants to pay in-state tuition at the state's public colleges, I heard from a number of "concerned citizens."

"Undocumented immigrants can't ever be productive members of society," someone wrote. "I don't see where they lack opportunity by first becoming citizens," wrote another. One reader eventually accused me of being "compassionate" since I had demonstrated what he qualified as "silly notions" when I wrote that there was a time when African-Americans were also outsiders.

I respect all views and will forever defend everyone's right to speak up, but I am not giving up on the need to give opportunities to youth, wherever they may come from.

I am revisiting this subject to honor those for whom making this bill into law will never come soon enough.

"I am going to be a scientist," said 19-year W.S., who asked that his full name not be used. "What I really like is science, so I am planning to go to college to study astronomy or chemistry. I would love to go to MIT and to work at NASA."

A graduate of a Boston public high school, W.S. is an active member of the Access to Higher Education Task Force of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, also known as MIRA. His parents work in the cleaning business, one of them, for a renowned university in Massachusetts.

Together with many other students, he visited legislators and their aides to explain the problem. He learned a lot of people are not tuned in to the immigrant reality. They hear the word "immigrant" and imagine that people are expecting privileges and protections, he said. Romney may not have read the bill carefully, he said.

"The governor sees the bill as a benefit to the immigrants and thinks that, since we are getting close to the election, it's not going to benefit him. But I think he doesn't understand it. When we visited the State House and talked to aides of legislators, they often wondered if immigrants would attend college for free.

"We educated them and let them know that all we want, since we live here, is to be treated equally and to have the same opportunities. Our families have been paying taxes for four or five years, like everyone else. This is not a bill to benefit the immigrants; it's a bill to give opportunities to all."

The language of the bill is specific as it allows students to access in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities, provided they have attended at least three years at a high school in Massachusetts and have graduated or received the equivalent of a diploma. Also, candidates must have applied to become permanent residents.

It is important to note that a great majority of graduating high school students had no say in coming to this country. Their parents go through very difficult situations with a goal of giving their children a better life.

Despite the critics, the contributions of immigrants have been documented in several detailed studies. A report released in June 2003 by Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies predicts that "Household growth, the primary driver of housing demand, may well exceed 12 million between 2000 and 2010" and immigrants will "contribute more than one-quarter of this net increase."

The American Immigration Law Foundation also reports that the contributions of immigrants are vital because they tend to be younger and the native population is aging rapidly. As a result, the tax dollars of immigrant workers are increasingly important in funding the nation's retirement system.

They go on to mention Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan as he described the significance of this issue in testimony before the Senate Special Committee on Aging on Feb. 27, 2003 and noted that "the aging of the population in the United States will have significant effects on our fiscal situation. In particular, it makes our Social Security and Medicare programs unsustainable in the long run, short of a major increase in immigration rates, a dramatic acceleration in productivity growth well beyond historical experience, a significant increase in the age of eligibility for benefits, or the use of general revenues to fund benefits."

Eight other states have signed this bill into law and welcomed the immigrants to the table. It would be great if our governor could think back to some opportunity he was given and let us quote him as papers in Illinois were able to quote their governor on May 18, 2003, as he signed a similar bill:

"I'm where I am today because I was allowed to pursue the American Dream. My immigrant parents worked hard so I could get an education and make a contribution to my community," Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich said. "All of our young people should have the same opportunity regardless of their immigrant status."


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