Bill to revoke tuition for undocumented falters

By Rochelle McConkie

Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, has changed gears in regards to denying undocumented students the in-state tuition discount by releasing a substitute bill that would allow them to pay in-state tuition if they promise not to work.

U sociology professor and Assistant Vice President for Academic Outreach Theresa Martinez, who co-chairs the group Utahns for the American Dream, said the amended bill is further evidence of a broken system when it comes to immigration reform.

“Why are we making children suffer for achieving excellent grades and hard work? Why are we penalizing them?” Martinez said. “Children in our society shouldn’t be afraid to get an education. They shouldn’t be afraid of where their next meal comes from.”

Time ran out in a senate committee meeting Tuesday morning before Donnelson could make his case for the revised version of House Bill 241. Now the representative must convince the Senate Rules Committee that the bill is worth debating on the Senate floor before the session ends next week or else it will die. If Donnelson gets the OK, he will introduce the substitute bill, which he said he created in an attempt to bring in more votes and show a little “compassion” for undocumented students.

“Hopefully this will motivate (students) not to work with fraudulent documents,” Donnelson said. “They’re just digging big holes for themselves.”

In the new bill, undocumented students could continue to pay in-state tuition if they are unemployed or not receiving any income without federal authorization. Donnelson said the bill would be a “self-policing agreement” following an honor code to verify that the students are not working. If they are working, the students would be ineligible for the benefits of in-state tuition, he said.

Martinez said legislators did not think the bill through and that it raises questions of how undocumented students would pay for food, housing, books or even the tuition itself.

“Students do need to work to live,” Martinez said. “Most of the students are getting scholarships, but beyond the scholarships, there still has to be food, room and board.”

Donnelson’s new bill follows the argument he has been making throughout the legislative session that allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition would be offering them “false dreams” because they wouldn’t be able to work without falsifying documents.

He said he changed the bill because he didn’t have the votes needed to pass the original, and he was worried the same thing that happened with his driving privilege card bill would happen to the undocumented student tuition bill-it failed in the same committee earlier that morning.

Under current law, undocumented immigrants can register their cars and receive automobile insurance under a driving privilege card, but Donnelson’s bill, HB 239, would get rid of these cards. Donnelson said driving privilege cards raise a question of national security because he said there is no way of identifying these individuals and they “could be terrorists.”

Sen. Scott McCoy, D-Salt Lake City, said there is no connection between driving privilege cards and terrorism, and taking these cards away would be dangerous because it would also eliminate insurance for undocumented immigrants.

The bill failed with two “yes” votes and three “no” votes.

Kim Wirthlin, U vice president for government relations, said Donnelson’s substitute bill may not make it through the Senate in time.

“At this point there are so many bills,” Wirthlin said. “You just run out of time.”

The U was opposed to the original HB 241, but Wirthlin said the substitute is more palatable.

“I doesn’t get rid of in-state tuition for undocumented students, so from that standpoint it is good,” Wirthlin said. “We want to make sure that is preserved.”

Martinez said the federal and state governments need to pass solid immigration reform to fix the problem — instead of penalizing students — and allow immigrants to work.

“We clearly need immigrant labor in this country and state, and we’re in denial,” Martinez said.

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