Chelsea School Committee member; a political organizer for the Boston Teachers Union
The Supreme Court established in 1982 that the right to a K-12 education cannot be denied based on immigration status. The court said that depriving children of an education “takes an inestimable toll on the social, economic, intellectual, and psychological well being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement.” Today, depriving undocumented students the opportunity to get a college degree also takes a toll on their well-being and their opportunity for individual achievement.
Beacon Hill lawmakers are considering two bills allowing all Massachusetts residents who have attended at least three years of high school in the state and graduated the ability to attend our public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates regardless of their immigration status, as 21 other states have done.
This policy would be life-changing for many of our students in Chelsea. Currently, Chelsea students can take free dual enrollment and Early College classes at Bunker Hill Community College. But once they graduate high school, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition rates for public higher education, even though many have spent most of their lives in Massachusetts. (Students with DACA status are an exception, but most children do not qualify for that federal program since it is only open to those who arrived here before June 15, 2007). Because undocumented students are also ineligible for state and federal financial aid, this effectively puts college out of reach for these low-income students — the very students public colleges were designed to serve.
While employers cannot hire people who lack work authorization, undocumented immigrants can start their own businesses, helping revitalize Main Street economies. Nearly a quarter of Massachusetts entrepreneurs are foreign-born, according to New American Economy. In a time when public higher education enrollment is declining, why not allow ambitious high school graduates to make good on our state’s investment in their education and join their entrepreneurial compatriots, making Massachusetts more competitive nationally?
Nearly all our undocumented students in Chelsea arrived here as children. Many have never known life in another country. Let’s stop penalizing children for decisions they didn’t make, and give our hardworking students a chance at their American Dream.
State Representative, Norwell Republican
This year, once again, the Massachusetts Legislature is considering extending in-state tuition to illegal immigrants wishing to attend public colleges and universities. This debate has become a regular part of each legislative session with advocates making their case primarily on altruistic grounds.
The overall impact, however, would not only be bad public policy but in my view would also be unfair to younger citizens and their families. The proposed policy is fraught with drawbacks.
Currently the difference between in-state tuition and that charged non-resident students at University of Massachusetts campuses is about $20,000 annually. That is a very significant difference. And under one of the bills that has been filed this session, many illegal immigrants would also qualify for state financial aid at public colleges and universities. In a fiscal environment where everything from infrastructure to K-12 education to public pensions are significantly underfunded, is it wise to establish a policy that is guaranteed to produce even more stress on the budgets of our public university system in Massachusetts?
Moreover the proposed legislation would mean fewer available dollars in the higher education system to help our veterans and those residents currently serving in the military to afford the cost of attending college. Recently I was privileged to work with other legislators and state officials on a committee studying the cost and feasibility of exempting Massachusetts veterans from paying tuition, fees and other costs associated with attending a public college or university. What became quite clear to me working on that committee is that the support provided by state colleges and universities is inconsistent at best and leaves much to be desired especially for those currently serving in the reserves.
A policy of providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants would simply encourage more illegal immigration and reward those who came to this country illegally. It would misallocate the limited public resources which the Legislature is entrusted by the public to wisely manage. Finally, it clearly punishes legal residents both directly through higher costs and diminished educational opportunities. Governor Charlie Baker and our Legislature would be wise to continue the current policy of reserving in-state tuition to those who are here legally.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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