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Lawmakers hear renewed push for immigrant tuition bill

Natalia Berthet was 5 years old when her parents illegally immigrated to the United States.

She grew up attending Leominster public schools and graduated from high school after taking honors classes and advanced placement courses. For 20 years, she remained undocumented.

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“I dreamt of college and convinced myself that by the time I was ready to attend, surely we’d be documented and everything would be OK,” she told lawmakers of the Higher Education Committee on Wednesday.

Lawmakers are once again considering legislation that would make less expensive in-state public higher education tuition rates available to Massachusetts high school graduates who attended a public high school for at least three years, regardless of their immigration status.

Hundreds of Massachusetts students are ineligible for in-state tuition, despite a change in federal immigration law that passed last year allowing some young people to apply for legal status, according to lawmakers and advocates who testified in favor of expanding in-state tuition eligibility.

The change in federal policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, opened the door for the majority of young immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition, but left some without options, advocates said. DACA requires immigrants to apply for legal status by the time they are 31 years old, and they must have moved to the United States by 16 years old.

Governor Deval Patrick supports the legislation and Secretary of Education Matt Malone said the current policy is inequitable and hurts the state’s economic competitiveness. Eighteen other states have adopted laws allowing in-state tuition for high school graduates who meet certain eligibility requirements, including Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New York. New Hampshire lawmakers recently recommended passage of similar legislation.

“These are our kids. They are no different than your or my children,” Malone said. “This is wrong. It is not equitable, and it is not what we value in America.”

Committee co-chairman Representative Thomas Sannicandro, Democrat of Ashland, said that he supports the proposal.

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