An article in yesterday's New York Times revisits the debate over whether undocumented immigrants should be allowed to pay in-state tuition at public universities (it focuses on New Jersey). Although a 1996 immigration reform bill included a provision to deny lower tuition rates to undocumented students, states like California, Texas and New York have found ways to give tuition breaks to immigrants who grew up in the state's public school system. There is now a growing movement across the country (including red states like Kansas and North Carolina) to pass similar laws, and Utah Republican Senator Orin Hatch continues to push the DREAM Act (albeit without too much success - Senate leaders killed the bill after it passed Hatch's Judiciary Committee). Being able to pay in-state tuition is vital because without it many undocumented immigrants cannot afford college (they also do not qualify for most forms of financial aid).
The trend is important because it shows that communities and local politicians are able to recognize the complexities in the immigration debate, unlike some anti-immigrant national politicians and organizations that are foaming at the mouth. Putting aside the larger (and much more complicated) discussion of immigration reform, I think it makes a lot of sense to support bills like the DREAM Act, especially since it would help to legalize many of the students. For one, as this Wall Street Journal article from April argues, encouraging undocumented immigrants to go to college helps communities by increasing the local tax base. Denying in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants that have a chance to go to college also turns away bright and hard-working students that could help move this country ahead. Most of all, barring immigrant students from college sends the wrong message to kids (not only undocumented ones, but their friends as well) - you can work hard and get into college against all odds, but if your parents came to this country illegally, too bad. Shouldn't we be rewarding these students instead of taking out our fears on them?