Don Roach: Just Say No to In-State Tuition for Illegal Immigrants

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


In the past I have written about illegal immigration. I’ve talked about making compromises & compared immigrants across generations. Unfortunately, the issue of illegal immigrants being able to attend Rhode Island state universities at the same price as legal residents is just one issue we should not compromise on. Not an inch.

The General Assembly was circumvented

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Last year, Rhode Island’s Board of Governor’s for Higher Education (RIBGHE) decided the issue for us by allowing illegal immigrants the ability to attend Rhode Island’s universities at the same rate as legal residents provided they graduated from and attended a Rhode Island high school for three years. On Monday, GoLocal reported that Rep. Doreen Costa is introducing legislation that would “block any undocumented citizens from receiving in-state tuition”. Essentially, the legislation would allow the legislative body of our state’s government the ability to decide the issue. Many believe, and count Costa among them that the RIBGHE made the decision last fall because the votes supporting illegal immigrants receiving in-state tuition are not there. Rep. Grace Diaz has been a proponent of illegal immigrants receiving in-state tuition for years. She has unsuccessfully tried to pass this legislation in years past – 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011. As far as I can tell, none of these bills made it out of committee meaning there was not and continues to be insufficient support amongst the majority of legislators for illegal immigrants receiving in-state tuition.

General Assembly members do not agree with Rep. Diaz’s reasoning for providing in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Additionally, leadership of the General Assembly appeared to be unwilling to fight for these bills and grant them a floor vote. Obviously, there are many bills that do not receive a floor vote for a number of different reasons, but it begs the question as to why the RIBGHE felt the need to step in where the legislature had rejected prior proposals? It seems that the RIBGHE wanted to imprint their policy onto Rhode Islanders without the consent of Rhode Islanders by proxy or otherwise. In other words, we elect legislators to make these decisions, we do not elect members of the RIBGHE…at…all.

Can we all agree that it is under the purview of our General Assembly to establish the laws by which our public universities should be abiding? If we agree on that then, the RIBGHE overstepped their authority when they bypassed the legislature who had for years rejected Diaz’s bills. Therefore, Rep. Costa is introducing a bill that would force the General Assembly to make a decision on the issue.

As I like to do from time to time, I contacted both Rep. Diaz and Rep. Costa through Facebook to see if they would like to comment on this article. Unfortunately, I did not hear back from Rep. Diaz but I would like to note that I gave very short notice and not all of us are Facebook junkies so it should not be held against Rep. Diaz for a lack of response. Here’s what Rep. Costa had to say about her bill:

“This bill that I put in really has nothing to do with the fact if you agree or disag[r]ee with instate tuition for [illegal immigrants]. The Governor did not go through the proper procedure. He by-passed the general assembly knowing there was not enough votes to support this. This is the only state in the country that by-passed the legislative process. He went to the [RIBGHE] knowing they would pass this seeing that they are all appointed mostly by him. I have […] support for this bill on both sides. Does not matter if you have a D or an R next to your name. It's about going through the process.”

The issue, according to Costa, is that the governor and the RIBGHE circumvented the legislature because they knew the legislature would not pass Diaz’s legislation. However you stand on this or any other legal issue, we should all agree that issues like this should be brought before the legislature and not decided by eleven (only eleven board members were present when the RIGBHE voted) unelected officials with zero accountability to taxpayers.

Not to get all slippery slope here, but if it can happen in this instance what’s to protect taxpayers from facing other similar situations? One would think laws would be in place to protect us but it’s reckless for the governor and members of the RIBGHE to go around the General Assembly simply because they disagree with its membership on this issue.

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Just say no to illegal immigrants receiving in-state tuition

Having said that and gotten the logistical issue out the way, there is no way in the world we should support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants. Again, we – as in the legislature and/or citizens – should not support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants today, tomorrow, fifty years from now.


We make a complete mockery of our laws if we do. What we’re saying is that a legal resident of Massachusetts has less of a right to in-state tuition than a non-legal resident from Providence. We’re saying that someone who is unable to legally pay income tax to the state or federal government should receive the same tuition rate as residents who are or have the ability to pay income tax to the state and federal government. And we’re also telling young people that following the law and doing what’s right is of no importance in this state.

Rep. Diaz and others would probably say that we’re giving these kids the opportunity to attend college and make a better life for themselves, that it’s the ‘right thing to do’ for students who have little to know control over their immigration status. I agree that many of these students probably had little choice to come to this country, but does this give them a license to ignore laws we all live under?

I don’t think so.

Further, if these students receive degrees from our public universities how will they be able to get a job. Let’s assume someone graduates magna cum laude from URI with a degree in accounting, how are they going to get a job in this country without being here legally? Is a Big 4 tax firm going to hire them? Not in this country. Will the student be able to give back to the state that enabled them to receive an education at a reduced price? Not until they become a legal resident.

In the comment section I invite any of you who believe illegal immigrants should receive in-state tuition to tell folks like me and the General Assembly why. Convince us why it makes sense to do this and why it helps the state, the students, and the taxpayer. I don’t see a reason, the General Assembly hasn’t seen a reason, and I remain unconvinced that any good comes from this.

Don Roach is a member of the RI Young Republicans and can be reached at [email protected]


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