Immigration Bill Would Help Undocumented College Student

Compiled By Staff
December 18, 2009

Revised immigration legislation introduced this week in the House of Representatives would ensure that young illegal immigrants could pay in-state college tuition rates and eventually become American citizens.

The new bill, called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act, would allow those brought to the United States illegally before age 16 to be eligible for permanent residency after graduating from an American high school and completing two years of college, military service or employment. Eventually, those who were granted permanent residency would then be eligible for American citizenship after three more years.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.) and includes some provisions from the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act--known as the "Dream Act"--which allows illegal immigrants to receive some federal student aid and makes them eligible for in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities.

"Our current system does not allow them to complete their potential," Gutierrez was quoted as saying about young illegal immigrants in The Chronicle of Higher Education. "We cannot punish them for wanting to be better people in this community."

The Dream Act was first introduced in 2001 but has failed to pass Congress since then. It was reintroduced and drew support from the College Board earlier this year.

Yet the bill has many opponents. Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was quoted in USA Today as referring to the Dream Act as "rewarding people who have broken the law with immigration benefits." He noted that those who entered the country illegally "should be held responsible for the consequences to their children."

In a related story, the Houston Chronicle reports that lawyers for the Immigration Reform Coalition of Texas are challenging a state law allowing illegal immigrants to be eligible for in-state college tuition rates. Texas is one of ten states which currently allows undocumented students to pay in-state rates and receive state financial aid under certain circumstances.

"We don't think that taxpayers should break federal law in order to subsidize people who are in the United States illegally," noted David A. Rogers, one of the lawyers.

Cesar Espinosa, an immigrant advocate in Houston, countered that undocumented students finish high school because they know they can continue with their studies. "If we want to keep students engaged," he told the Houston Chronicle, "we have to have a means for them to continue with their education."

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