More states granting in-state tuition to immigrants

Advocates point to cost disparity as limiting many

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shakes students’ hands after a ceremonial signing of the DREAM Act last month.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shakes students’ hands after a ceremonial signing of the DREAM Act last month.

WASHINGTON — Giancarlo Tello paid $14,000 more than most other New Jersey high school graduates to attend Rutgers University, the state’s flagship public college.

Why the difference?

Tello spent much of his childhood in the United States without legal permission after his parents moved from Peru when he was 6.


The cost disparity will change this fall, thanks to a law recently signed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie that provides in-state tuition to immigrants like him.

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Supporters of immigrants’ rights are energized because after years of contentious fights, New Jersey and three other states passed statutes last year that will allow such students who came to the United States when they were minors to pay in-state tuition.

Fifteen states now have such a statute, said Ann Morse of the National Conference of State Legislatures. In addition, university boards in Hawaii, Michigan, and Rhode Island have granted these students in-state tuition. To qualify, high school graduates typically must meet requirements such as living in a state for a set number of years.

Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Mississippi, New Hampshire, and Virginia have bills under consideration that would extend the in-state benefit, said Tanya Broder, a senior attorney with the National Immigration Law Center.

Supporters next plan to step up lobbying on a related issue: making these students eligible for state financial aid, including scholarships or grants. Already, California, New Mexico, and Texas have laws spelling out this right, and it is under consideration in states such as Washington.


Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Representative Jared Polis of Colorado, both Democrats, filed a bill in Congress that would provide money to states that offer in-state tuition or financial aid to these students.

‘‘It’s an economic issue, and it’s an issue of fairness,’’ Murray said.

In this time of financial austerity, the bill faces a difficult road.

The students are known as ‘‘Dreamers’’ — from the shorthand for legislation stymied in Congress that provides a way for them to permanently remain in the United States. The full title is the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

Lacking legal immigration status, the students aren’t eligible for federal financial aid and many other aid programs.


But in many cases they are able to remain in the United States under President Obama’s 2012 deferred action program. That allows immigrants brought into the United States without legal permission as children by their parents to obtain temporary resident status for two years. The status is renewable.

Tello and Yves Gomes, 21, who was brought to the United States from India as a toddler, signed up.

Gomes attends the University of Maryland and pays in-state tuition, which he had lobbied for. But he says in some cases that isn’t enough. He called for state and other financial aid, especially for those who don’t qualify for Maryland’s in-state tuition benefit.

Tuition and fees for Maryland residents come to about $9,000 this academic year, compared with more than $28,000 for those from other states. That doesn’t include thousands of dollars more in room and board.

‘‘I met so many friends who are off and on in school just because they have to take time off to help their families put food on the table. You have to survive,’’ Gomes said.

The issue of what educational benefits should be available to immigrants living illegally in the country has been contentious. Critics say helping the students encourages unlawful behavior and means they potentially take someone else’s seat at taxpayers’ expense.

‘‘I don’t understand why they would take taxpayer dollars that could be going to US citizens and instead subsidizing the education of noncitizens who could also be deported,’’ said Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas who has litigated immigration-related cases. ‘‘Why would you subsidize a workforce that may not be there tomorrow?’’

Kansas passed a law in 2004 that granted the in-state tuition benefit to students living in the country illegally.

Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, South Carolina, and Indiana bar the in-state benefit altogether, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. In Wisconsin, in-state tuition was authorized in 2009, but later repealed.

Christie agreed to sign the New Jersey bill only after issuing a conditional veto that took out the financial aid component.

‘‘It definitely felt great that now a lot of ‘dreamers’ in New Jersey, including myself, will be able to return to school, but at the same time it feels like we were lied to by Governor Christie, who when he was campaigning, said he was going to give full equality to the Latino community,’’ Tello said.