Tuition breaks for immigrants stirs debate

Governor Deval Patrick in July.
Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Governor Deval Patrick in July.

Governor Deval Patrick said Monday that allowing certain young illegal immigrants to pay the lower resident rate for tuition and fees at state colleges and universities is just one piece in efforts to overhaul ­immigration policy.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform,” ­Patrick told reporters at the State House. “We still need that.”

On Monday, he sent a letter to the Board of Higher Education direct­ing it to revise its policy ­immediately to allow illegal immigrant students to pay resident rates if they meet all other requirements.


Patrick’s decision comes five months after President Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The initiative grants ­immigrants age 30 and younger two-year deportation deferrals and work permits if they ­arrived in the United States ­before age 16, had a clean ­record, and met other requirements. They also must pay a $465 fee.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The move set off a robust ­debate on Beacon Hill and ­beyond.

Representative Bradley H. Jones Jr., Republican leader of the Massachusetts House, blasted Patrick’s decision.

“The implementation of in-state tuition rates for illegal ­immigrants should be stopped immediately,” Jones said in a statement. “Regardless of whether or not the governor and I agree on this issue, the topic at hand should be how best to provide an affordable education for all of Massachusetts’ residents.”

He accused the governor of trying to usurp the power of the Legislature by implementing the policy unilaterally.


Patrick’s decision also drew criticism from a prominent Democrat. Senator Richard Moore of Uxbridge said he is worried that illegal immigrants might take slots at public colleges from students who are ­legal residents of the state.

“Given the limitations on ­access by taxpayers, it’s a concern as to whether it’s the right policy at this point in time,” Moore said. “Are we going to add faculty? Are we going to add rooms?”

Moore also faulted the governor for imposing the policy rather than seeking the Legislature’s approval.

The governor says he is on strong legal footing to act unilaterally. He said that because any resident of Massachusetts with a work permit is currently entitled to in-state tuition rates, his order merely clarifies that these young illegal immigrants, so long as they have a work permit, will be covered under that policy.

“Not every policy requires a legislative review,” he said.


Patrick’s announcement, ­reported by the Globe Monday, dramatically slashes the cost of a college education for immigrants who until now had to pay out-of-state rates.

For example, the flagship University of Massachusetts Amherst costs $26,645 this year for nonresidents, compared with $13,230 for residents, while Bunker Hill Community College costs $5,640 this year for residents, compared with $13,880 for nonresidents. And Framingham State costs $8,080 for residents this year, compared with $14,160 for nonresidents.

“These are not outsiders; these are residents and taxpayers who pay their dues to Massachusetts,” Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said before hosting an annual Thanksgiving lunch celebrating new citizens at the State House.

Millona said the new federal program is a temporary fix until Congress passes a comprehensive overhaul of the immigration system.

US Representative Michael Capuano, who spoke at the lunch, said he was hopeful changes to federal immigration law would be addressed in this congressional term, but problems must be faced in the meantime.

“We have a lot of mistakes we’re trying to fix with Band-Aids.’’ he said. “I hate the Band-Aid approach, but sometimes it’s necessary.”

Lieutenant Governor Timothy P. Murray said it made economic sense to help young ­immigrants earn an education and a productive living after they attended public elementary and high schools. “It’s making good on an investment so many of our taxpayers have ­already made,” Murray told the lunch crowd. “It’s important that we realize the full payoff of that investment by allowing them to go on.”

But Greg Serrao, an Andover resident with a child in college and one in high school, said the government should be focused on educating its citizens and making college affordable for them. He said he has seen friends take out loans, remortgage homes, get a second job, or tell a child they cannot go to the school of their choice because of tuition costs.

“To think that other people are going to get a significant ­financial pass just doesn’t seem right,” Serrao said.

Maria Sacchetti of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Johanna Kaiser can be reached at johanna.yourtown@ Michael Levenson can be reached at MLevenson@