Opinions mixed on tuition for undocumented students

By By Rochelle McConkie

By Rochelle McConkie

As the divisive undocumented student tuition debate rages on at the State Capitol, the U campus reflects the state’s broad range of opinions about the issue.

“I want them to go to school,” said Beth Allen, a junior English major. “But if they’re living here and getting in-state tuition, they should earn their way.”

Like many U students, Allen said she has mixed feelings as to whether undocumented students should continue to receive an in-state tuition discount at state colleges and universities, an issue the Utah State Legislature will discuss before the session ends next week. Last week the House of Representatives passed House Bill 241, which would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. The bill is now scheduled for debate in the Senate.

Allen’s uncertainties mirror the feelings of many Utahns, according to a recent Dan Jones & Associates poll conducted for the Deseret Morning News and KSL-TV. The poll reported that Utahns are split on the issue, with 41 percent of residents supporting the current law and 51 percent in favor of the repeal, down from 63 percent who supported it last month.

Matt Burbank, a U political science professor, said the issue represents a broader political debate on the nature of illegal immigration in the United States.

Burbank said the bill has a chance of passing in the Senate because past bill sponsors have been lobbying strongly for the bill.

“There are plausible arguments on both sides,” he said.

On one hand, Burbank said it is easy for opponents of undocumented students receiving in-state tuition to argue that the government shouldn’t provide benefits for illegal actions. At the same time people can question why these students should be asked to pay out-of-state tuition when they are clearly Utah residents, regardless of their parents’ immigration status, he said.

“It’s one of those circumstances when it’s hard to know which (side) ought to take precedence,” Burbank said.

For many students, the issue comes down to money.

Jacob Arry, a sophomore in mass communication, said undocumented students shouldn’t be allowed the discount because they don’t pay taxes.

“I’m paying out-of-state tuition, and I’m a U.S. citizen,” Arry said. “If there are rules, you should follow them.”

Benjamin Holdaway, a senior in political science, used a monetary argument to speak in opposition to the bill. Holdaway said the average income for undocumented individuals in Utah is $15,000 a year.

“If you charge them out-of-state tuition, that’s their family’s entire income,” Holdaway said. “And their children won’t be able to earn more than $15,000 a year.”

Holdaway said the children of undocumented immigrants have a good chance of naturalization and that allowing them to get a college education would create opportunities and help them progress toward jobs.

Suneil Bhambri, a sophomore in business, said the bill would have no benefit.

“If groups want to be educated and they’re working for it, why shouldn’t society help them out?” he said.

A number of U students have protested against the slew of anti-illegal immigration bills going through the Legislature, by participating in candlelight vigils and speaking out at the Capitol.

Burbank said the bill would likely have no discernible affect on the number of people illegally present in the United States, nor would it cause them to change their immigration status.

“Most of the nature of the debate is more symbolic,” Burbank said.

Forcing these students to pay out-of-state tuition would be perpetuating the cycle of disparity, said senior biology major Seyran Saber. She said the state should not punish children for the actions of their parents.

“We’d be sending them right back to where their parents started,” Saber said. “We’re going about it the wrong way.”

Instead of repealing the bill, Saber suggested the state pass legislation to allow the students to become legal citizens.

Although Utahns are divided on the issue, Burbank said there is a vocal constituency in support of the bill in the Republican Party who are also trying to make it a national issue of immigration reform.

Carlos Scheidegger, a fourth-year graduate student in computer science who is not a U.S. citizen, said the bill won’t result in solutions for illegal immigration issues at the state or national level.

“It’s more of a political motivation, with the expediency aspect of saying, ‘We’re doing something about the issue,'” Scheidegger said.

Harry Mornh, a sophomore in mechanical engineering, thinks the state should reach a compromise. Although he understands how students might benefit from the discount, he said having the state pay for those students could take away from the quality of his education.

David Koop, a second-year graduate student in computer science, said there aren’t enough students in this situation to be a financial burden on the state. There are approximately 100 undocumented students attending the U.

“It depends on what the weight on the state would be,” Koop said. “Those students might be the ones who would most benefit from education and they wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

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