Nine years ago this week, “Dreamers” in the United States were given the hope, the promise, of living life out of the shadows and without fear of deportation.
Today thousands of such young people — some granted a reprieve by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, some simply undocumented — live among us in Massachusetts, study hard, and graduate from the state’s high schools. And yet those of them who are not DACA recipients are denied one important benefit accorded to their classmates: in-state tuition rates at the state’s public colleges.
For at least 15 years lawmakers have played politics with the issue on Beacon Hill. It’s time the games stopped. It’s time the lives and futures of young people — most of whom were brought here not by their own choice but by parents who themselves were searching for a better life — were put ahead of scoring political points.
Bills to grant in-state tuition rates to undocumented Massachusetts residents who attended at least three years of high school in the state and graduated — or attained an equivalent diploma through adult education — are once more before the Legislature.
“These students come up through our educational system and have worked hard to move on to college,” UMass Boston Chancellor Marcelo Suárez-Orozco told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Higher Education. “They value education and often offer an untold potential to our commonwealth.
“An act that affords them the same financial relief and the opportunity for tuition equity with their peers will go a long way to eliminating some of the negative consequences our unauthorized youth students face day in and day out,” he said.
Suárez-Orozco, who emigrated from Argentina as a teen, added that many will be the first in their families to go to college.
Currently, undocumented students must pay the same tuition as any international student — at UMass Boston that would be $35,159 for the 2021-22 academic year, compared with $14,697 for in-state students. The differential for, say, Bunker Hill Community College is about $6,390 (for a 15-credit course load) for out-of-state students versus $3,300 for in-state students.
The legislation would not include tuition differentials for the state’s medical or law schools.
According to Amy Grunder, director of legislative affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA), as of 2018, some 13,000 undocumented children were enrolled in the state’s public schools.
“Many of them don’t realize they are undocumented until they apply for college,” she told the committee.
Both Grunder and Suárez-Orozco testified that the students are further disadvantaged by not being able to access federal financial aid and are often excluded from scholarship programs as well.
With enrollments at community colleges and some state colleges declining as well, making college more affordable for this pool of students would be a win-win for the schools and the students.
Grunder testified that MIRA has been advocating for in-state tuition for undocumented students since 2003, and that in that time 21 states and the District of Columbia have adopted similar proposals, including neighboring Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York, and such Republican strongholds as Texas and Oklahoma.
“These states are not outliers,” she said. “They are pragmatic and they are fair, and it’s past time that we join them.”
A good deal of lip service has been paid to the idea during that time as well — and yet it never seems to make it over the finish line up at the State House.
Of course, the ultimate solution ought to be a permanent fix for the legal status of some 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country, especially the more than 1 million Dreamers. The American Dream and Promise Act, which would codify and extend DACA, was passed by the US House, but its odds are far slimmer in the Senate, and time is running out with the 2022 mid-term election looming.
Massachusetts’ undocumented students should not have to wait for the federal big fix. The state and its communities have already made a considerable investment in the education of these young people. This change will help everyone reap the benefits of that investment.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial misstated the tuition paid at Massachusetts public colleges and universities by undocumented immigrants who are recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They pay the in-state rate, not the out-of-state rate. The Globe regrets the error.
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