Should it be cheaper for illegal immigrants to attend U.S. colleges than for U.S. citizens? Yes, according to lawmakers in California, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Washington.
Illegal immigrants residing in these states are eligible for in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities. These rates afford a significant cost savings compared to the tuition rates charged to out-of-state students. On average, an out-of-state student pays three times as much in tuition costs as an in-state student to attend the same school. In some states this means an out-of-state student pays as much as $40,000 more over four years.
The primary rationale behind in-state tuition rates is that students whose parents have been paying taxes into the state treasury for the past 18 years—thereby providing revenue for that state’s colleges—should receive a break over out-of-state students. But the rationale has scant applicability to students who are illegal immigrants. Most states require illegal immigrants to reside in the state for only 2-3 years before becoming eligible for in-state tuition rates.
It’s estimated that the majority of the 125,000 illegal immigrants attending the nation’s colleges and universities are eligible for in-state tuition rates.
In-state tuition breaks may not be the only benefit granted to some illegal immigrants seeking to attend U.S. colleges and universities. Thomas Sowell, Roger Clegg, and Ed Blum have noted recently that illegal immigrants who are members of preferred minority groups are entitled to other benefits unavailable to the vast majority of American citizens.
At some schools, preferred-minority applicants are up to 100 times more likely to be admitted than similarly situated non-preferred (i.e., Asian or white) comparatives. Affirmative-action programs at some schools are structured in a way that, beyond a minimum level of qualification, preferred-minority applicants are virtually guaranteed admission. Consider the advantage to the illegal immigrant residing in, say, Illinois, who is also a preferred minority: If he applies to an Illinois state school with a typical affirmative-action program, he’s dozens of times more likely to be admitted over a more qualified Asian or white U.S. citizen and will pay tens of thousands less for tuition than a U.S. citizen from outside the state. As the comedian Yakov Smirnoff—a legal immigrant—might say, “What a country!”
Juan Carlos Delira has a mortgage, car, bank account, credit card, cellphone and 401(k) retirement account. It does not matter that he’s an illegal immigrant.
While Congress debates whether the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants should be deported, granted amnesty or allowed “earned citizenship,” many U.S. institutions—and some federal agencies—already afford illegal immigrants privileges available to U.S. citizens.
Illegal immigrants turn to many nonprofits for help and can expect protection from law enforcement agencies and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which enforces workplace safety in many places where illegal immigrants work, such as construction sites.
They can find work at publicly financed day-labor centers, such as the one in Fort Worth. In Texas and several other states, they can qualify for in-state tuition at public universities and for state financial aid. They can also can get some scholarships.
Critics call such practices de facto legalization and worry that extending benefits to illegal immigrants removes the stigma of violating immigration law.
“They want to make illegal immigration a fait accompli,” said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington-based group that opposes illegal immigration. “The more benefits we extend to illegals, the more we make it seem normal.”
Delira crossed the border when he was 14. He spent his first year in the United States working as a dishwasher and living under a bridge with other illegal immigrants. They cooked over an open fire and showered by blasting one another with hoses at a carwash.
Other illegal immigrants said their networks buzz with advice about how to overcome obstacles and where to go for help. Sometimes rejection means moving on to the next program or company that openly, discreetly or unknowingly serves people without legal-residency status.
Sometimes all that’s required is a little extra paperwork. Illegal immigrants who want to qualify for in-state tuition at public universities must sign an affidavit saying they intend to become a citizen. Registering a car with the county requires filling out one extra form if the owner does not have a Social Security number.
George Allen, executive vice president of the Texas Apartment Association, said he knows of no law requiring identification for a lease. Some illegal immigrants said they end up paying a small bribe if they do not have the papers apartment managers ask for.
“I don’t have documents, but I have money,” said Jose Luis Flores, 38, who lives in an Arlington apartment with his wife and three children. Despite his status, Flores has been able to buy a car and cellphone and set up a bank account. He said he is now applying for a mortgage.
Flores said many companies are more interested in his money than his immigration status, and national research backs him up. The Pew Hispanic Center in Washington estimates that illegal immigrants have $180 billion worth of purchasing power.
Some experts say institutions and businesses recognize illegal immigrants because they can’t wait for Congress to act.
In Texas, illegal immigrants can get:
Finance Bank accounts, credit cards, mortgages, tax deductions and tax refunds
Education State financial aid for colleges, reduced in-state tuition, college scholarships, public education
Health and safety Medical care, health insurance, restraining orders, protection by fire and police departments, court-appointed attorneys