Discriminating bill hinders education

By By Jeffrey Jenkins and By Jeffrey Jenkins

By Jeffrey Jenkins

Immigration. The word connotes either undocumented individuals or illegal aliens, depending on where your center of political ideologies lies. Education, however, is indicative of ideas such as knowledge, progress and advantage, regardless of your political leanings.

Since 2002, the terms have become fused together with the passing of House Bill 144, which made Utah one of 10 states that allow undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition at all public higher education institutions. In order to qualify, the students had to attend a Utah high school for at least three years, graduate from a Utah high school, register after the fall 2002-2003 academic year and sign an affidavit stating they have filed or will file an application to legalize their immigration status.

According to a policy brief released by The Center for Public Policy and Administration at the U in February 2007, 68 undocumented students received in-state tuition rates at the U and 182 students statewide received resident tuition rates. These 182 students, whoever they are, are laying a foundation that will ultimately increase their standard of living and set an example for their friends, family and posterity.

However, not everyone in this state sees education as an inalienable right. Since the passing of H.B. 144, numerous bills have been submitted that would repeal the former legislation, such as House Bill 241, which was submitted last year and five years before. Each year, it was eventually defeated.

This year, legislators are not taking the issue head-on by trying to repeal undocumented student tuition as they have done in the past. Instead, they are attempting to create obstacles to undocumented students’ pursuit of education, rendering H.B. 144 mostly useless.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, has submitted House Bill 208, which states an undocumented “student may not be employed or earn income in the United States during the calendar year the student claims the (tuition) exemption.” The bill goes on to state that undocumented students who are enrolled in a public institution of higher education and do work will be ineligible for the tuition exemption. Greenwood said in proposing this bill he is “trying to protect undocumented students who graduated from Utah high schools” and that the bill will help students understand that by working, “they could be prosecuted for a felony.”

It is true that if an undocumented individual provides false or stolen identification information to gain employment, it constitutes fraud or identity theft, both of which are felonies. However, what the bill would actually accomplish is to discourage undocumented students from attending state universities, which has been the goal of some legislators since 2002. Even with in-state tuition, these students couldn’t afford it without some form of income.

The bill is paraded as a safeguard for the undocumented community. In reality it is a cloaked attempt to circumvent the tuition exemption instituted in the 2002 legislative session. Forcing undocumented students to not work is forcing them out of an educational opportunity of a lifetime. It forces them to find funding from alternate sources that are slim to none for the undocumented population. Undocumented individuals are not eligible for loans or federal financial aid.

By requiring undocumented students who work to pay out-of-state tuition, the bill is also pricing the students out of a college education. The Legislature needs to vote down this bill, which will only result in discrimination and restrict the possibilities of hundreds of students seeking a better quality of life.

[email protected]

Jeffrey Jenkins