Lawmakers to Discuss Banning In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

Monday, April 23, 2012


Conservative lawmakers hoping to reverse a decision made last year to grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition at local colleges will have their voices heard during a House Finance Committee meeting set for Tuesday.

Last fall, the Board of Governors for Higher Education Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education Monday voted unanimously to offer undocumented students in-state tuition at the state’s public university and colleges.

But Republican State Rep. Doreen Costa, who contends that the decision never had legislative approval and has criticized Governor Chafee for supporting the changes, is sponsoring legislation that would block any undocumented citizens from receiving in-state tuition.

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“The bill is simple,” Costa said. “It does not matter that if you are for or against the [Governor’s] decision. It is about him bypassing the General Assembly. The reason that he did that is because he knew he did not have enough votes on the house floor to pass this. Rhode Island is the only stet in the country that bypassed the General Assembly and went right to the Board of Governors.

Costa, who claims the Governor has disrespected the General Assembly by supporting the new policy, says her bill has bipartisan support.

The Board of Governors took up in-state tuition after the General Assembly failed to take action on the Rhode Island version of the DREAM Act during the 2011 legislative session. Chafee endorsed the plan, calling it an end to a “needless roadblock.”

“This measure will improve the intellectual and cultural life of our state while strengthening our workforce and helping our economy,” Chafee said at the time. “Extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented students will allow more Rhode Islanders to go on to college.”

Diaz Bill Would Make Tuition Rule Law

The measure, which takes effect beginning this fall, requires students to attend Rhode Island high schools for at least three years and ensures that they will have to commit to seeking legal status as soon as become eligible.

Supporters say allowing illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition will make college more accessible to thousands of young people living in the state. Currently, tuition and fees at the Community College of Rhode Island is $3,676 for a Rhode Island resident and $9,816 for a non-resident. Rhode Island College in-state tuition and fees amount to $7,268 – a stark difference from the non-resident tuition and fees totaling $17,554. The University of Rhode Island also follows that trend, with tuition and fees costing a Rhode Island resident $12,658 annually, while out-of-state residents pay $28,746.

In addition to hearing Costa’s legislation, the Finance Committee will also take up a Rep. Grace Diaz-sponsored bill that will allow students who attend a Rhode Island high school for at least three years and obtain a diploma qualify for in-state tuition, regardless of their immigration statuses.

Diaz believes creating a law to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants will prevent future members of the Board of Governors from reversing their decisions.

“I was so happy to hear the Board of Governors listened to the supporters of this bill and made it a policy to allow qualifying immigrants to receive in-state tuition,” Diaz said earlier this year. “But we can’t just sit back and let this be enough. We need to make it a law so that when there is change on the board and change in the General Assembly, those students are protected. The policy needs to be on the books.”

RIILE Supports Costa

But Terry Gorman, President of Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement (RIILE), said his organization intends to vigorously oppose Rep Diaz’s bill.

“RIILE also intends to vigorously support Rep Costa's bill which would in effect rescind the “policy” enacted by the [Board of Governors] that grants in-state tuition to illegal alien students in our state. RIILE believes this policy has circumvented the powers of the General Assembly and in addition is in violation of two Federal Laws,” Gorman said.


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