Williams: Resident tuition doesn’t solve immigration crisis

By By Alicia Williams

By Alicia Williams

The United States Census Bureau reports that more than 12 million illegal immigrants live in the United States, with an estimated 500,000 arriving this year. A study conducted in 2000 by the Urban Institute found that as many as 65,000 illegal immigrants are graduating from high schools within the United States every year.

Utah is one of 10 states in the United States that allows illegal immigrants to receive resident tuition at state colleges and universities. In 2002, the Utah State Legislature enacted House Bill 144, which allowed illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition if they attend a Utah high school for three years, graduate or receive a GED, and sign an affidavit stating that they have or will apply to legalize their immigration status.

The Utah System for Higher Education reported 182 undocumented students were able to enter Utah colleges and universities during the 2005-2006 year as residents under HB 144. Currently, the U Admissions Office reports that 76 undocumented students are receiving resident tuition.

Each year since 2004, Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, has introduced a bill attempting to eliminate illegal immigrants’ ability to receive in-state tuition. Once again, this year’s bill, HB 241, failed to pass the Senate after passing in the House 40-35.

Although none of the bills have been successful, opponents are not happy. They want the constant battle to stop-it’s stressful on the students and their families.

The pain of not knowing if they will receive resident tuition seems small, however, compared to the stress of living in the United States illegally. Even after achieving the excellent goal of a college education, many of these students might continue to be undocumented. There are plenty of timetables and financial roadblocks to stop them. Without a way to help them become legal citizens, HB 144 is incomplete.

As a second-generation Mexican American, I can say that my Mexican heritage is invaluable. I have an extreme love for my family members and all the many traits, values, opportunities and blessings I have because of their dedication and commitment to becoming U.S. citizens. My family did it legally, giving me many more opportunities to succeed.

HB 241 opponents’ concern over the pain students suffer each year due to the uncertainty of tuition costs is only half of the real problem. These students are still living in the United States illegally. What about the pain and stress on the United States because of the effects of illegal immigration? What about the effects on immigrants trying to come to the United States legally? Ultimately, what can the illegal immigrant students do once they have a college education but not citizenship?

Part of HB 144 now requires them to apply for legal immigration status. The problem is, HB 144 relies on an honor system to accomplish legal citizenship. It requires them to sign a document that in effect says, “I promise to become legal as soon as I can,” but offers no real guidance as to how they are supposed to accomplish it.

Becoming a U.S. citizen isn’t always that easy. It takes time and it takes money. Someone with the purest intentions may find it difficult. We cannot continue to offer illegal immigrants the opportunity to be educated without offering any guidance on becoming legal citizens.

Helping immigrants get a college education is a great way to help them succeed and become productive members of the United States. However, HB 144 must be strengthened to include a method to help them along the path of legal citizenship–otherwise it is only half the solution.

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