Mass. Immigrant Tuition Bill to Get New Push

Russell Contreras, Comcast News, November 15, 2009

It seemed like a given that Mario Rodas would go to college.

The Guatemalan-born student certainly had the academic credentials, going from English as a second language classes to taking advanced placement exams for college credit his senior year at Chelsea High School.

But paying for it was another matter. As an undocumented immigrant in 2005, Rodas would have had to pay out-of-state tuition fees to go to a public college in Massachusetts, and he couldn’t afford that. If he had lived in Texas or Utah, states that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates, Rodas, now 22, might have graduated already.

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Nearly three years after Massachusetts House lawmakers soundly rejected a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates, lawmakers are preparing to revisit the issue.

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Undocumented students say they plan to launch a campaign by lobbying key lawmakers and sharing their stories in face-to-face meetings. Meanwhile, activists have cultivated a broader coalition of supporters that includes union members, business leaders and academics–something lacking in 2006.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, D-Boston, said the state’s Higher Education Committee is expected to hold hearings on the matter later this year or early next. Chang-Diaz, a co-sponsor of the bill, says it stands a better chance this time, with increased lobbying efforts and support from Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick. Former Gov. Mitt Romney, a Republican, opposed the measure in 2006.

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On Tuesday, the governor is scheduled to release a list of recommendations from his Advisory Council for Refugees and Immigrants that is expected to include in-state tuition for undocumented students. Patrick sent the panel around the state last year to take public comment and to come up with suggestions for new immigration policy.

Currently, 10 states–California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin–have such in-state tuition laws for undocumented students. Oklahoma repealed its law in 2008.

Meanwhile, four states–Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina–have passed laws specifically banning undocumented students from being eligible for in-state tuition.

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The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimates that 400 to 600 students might enter Massachusetts schools as a result of the bill and that it likely would result in $2.5 million of extra revenue.

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