From In-Crowd to Out

Maria Sacchetti, Boston Globe, May 17, 2009

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{snip} Filipe is an illegal immigrant.

Across America, Filipe and students like him are welcomed into the public school system by a narrow 1982 Supreme Court ruling that guarantees them a basic education, regardless of their immigration status. After graduation, for those who want to attend college, the rules dramatically change.

The story that is rarely told is what happens to them next.

Filipe got a loan, enrolled in college, and sank $46,000 into debt. He took this semester off to work at a gym and pay down the debt. When he couldn’t provide a Social Security number, he lost his job.

Now, he is broke, unemployed, and subject to deportation to Brazil, after spending nearly half his life in the United States.

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Every year as many as 65,000 undocumented students like him graduate from high school nationwide, including hundreds in Massachusetts, according to the National Immigration Law Center in Washington. Ten states, including California and Texas, allow students to pay resident tuition and continue their studies, while several states actively prohibit it, including South Carolina. Private colleges set their own rules; some grant students private scholarships, and others do not.

Massachusetts rejected legislation that would have allowed students to pay resident rates in 2006. The nonresident costs here are double the resident rate, as high as $21,729 a year at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Advocates of stricter immigration controls say the students should not take spaces away from US citizens or legal residents. They say resident tuition is a privilege that should be for US citizens or legal residents only.

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Advocates for immigrants say that children should not be punished for their parents’ actions and that states could benefit by enrolling students who could not otherwise afford college. Massachusetts advocates say state revenues would increase $2.5 million a year if students could pay resident tuition.

“It wouldn’t cost the state a thing and the state would gain from those who are not going to school now,” said Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition.

At the national level, pending legislation called the Dream Act, first filed in 2001, would allow students to pay resident tuition at public colleges and apply for legal residency.

The Obama administration and the College Board support it, but congressional aides said it is unlikely to pass the House and Senate without an overhaul for all illegal immigrants in the United States.

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