Bill would study giving illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition rates

Some illegal immigrants may now pay resident tuition to attend public universities in California, thanks to legislation signed last year by Gov. Gray Davis and a vote this week by the University of California Board of Regents. In North Carolina, a bill before the Senate would create a commission to study doing the same thing here.

The California legislation places some requirements on illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition. They must attend a California high school for three years, graduate, and pledge to apply for permanent residence as soon as they are eligible.

In North Carolina, Senate Bill 812, introduced by Sen. William N. Martin, D-Guilford, would require illegal immigrants to have two years’ attendance at a N.C. high school and graduation in order to qualify for in-state tuition at University of North Carolina system schools and North Carolina community colleges. Other senators sponsoring of the bill are: Charles Albertson, D-Duplin; Walter Dalton, D-Cleveland; Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth; Wib Gulley, D-Durham; Eleanor Kinnaird, D-Chatham; Howard N. Lee, D-Chatham; Jeanne Hopkins Lucas, D-Durham; and Allen H. Wellons, D-Franklin.

A staff member for Martin said the bill was in the Rules and Operations committee and possibly could be taken up in the upcoming short session.

Illegal immigrants can qualify for in-state tuition in Texas, and other states — Minnesota, Utah, and Washington — are debating allowing illegal immigrants in their borders to attend public postsecondary institutions at in-state rates.

Illegal immigration has become a much greater national concern since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and the revelation that many of the terrorists and would-be terrorists were in the country illegally. In fact, just this past November officials at the City University of New York reversed a longstanding policy giving illegal immigrants access to in-state tuition rates. CUNY’s vice chancellor for legal affairs, Frederick P. Schaffer, said the policy violated federal immigration law.

Sen. Virginia Foxx, R-Alleghany, said providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants would open “a Pandora’s Box” of trouble for North Carolina, from not just illegal immigrants but other people who want to pay in-state tuition, whom she said would be incensed if illegal immigrants were given this benefit. Foxx said, for example, families owning second homes in North Carolina aren’t given in-state tuition rates, even though they pay taxes on their property in N.C.

The difference between in-state tuition and fees and out-of-state tuition and fees at, for example, North Carolina State University for the academic year 2001-02 was $9,166: in-state tuition and fees were $2,746, and out-of-state tuition and fees were $11,912. If illegal immigrants were allowed to pay resident tuition, then that would mean that an illegal immigrant at N.C. State would pay less than a fourth of what of a legal resident of, say, Virginia — an American citizen — would be charged.

“I cannot imagine how we would do that,” Foxx said of providing in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants. “The rules on in-state tuition are among the toughest rules in education.”

“Why should taxpayers have to put up with this kind of foolishness from their legislators?” asked Jerry Agar, a radio talk-show host at WPTF AM 680 in Raleigh. Agar, a legal immigrant from Canada, said “To me, as an immigrant, that doesn’t seem right. I can’t find any way to make that right. Yet people fight the battle for illegal immigrants to be given a practically free education at the expense of taxpayers, while people coming from another state who’ve obeyed the law all their life and were born in this country must pay more.”