Undocumented student tuition bill fails

By Rochelle McConkie, News Editor

Wednesday morning wasn’t the first time Denise Castañeda has lobbied against immigration bills at the State Capitol, but it finally felt different.

“It’s a constant battle,” said Castañeda, a senior in social justice and education. “There are some representatives who have already made up their minds and won’t listen, but today they listened. It was more of a discussion than a debate.”

Castañeda was one of many U students who celebrated the defeat of House Bill 208 on Feb. 25, which would have required undocumented students to sign a legal agreement promising they had not worked or received any income in the past year in order to maintain their in-state tuition status. The bill failed in the Utah House of Representatives with a 34-40 vote and one abstention.

Although proponents of the bill said it was a measure to prevent undocumented students from committing a felony through identity theft, representatives who voted against H.B. 208 said it would only keep students out of higher education. Similar bills to repeal state laws allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition failed in past legislative sessions.

“Whatever the purpose of the bill is, the actual impact of this bill will be to narrow the opening of the schoolhouse doors,” said Rep. Kay McIff, R-Richfield, who said the bill brought back memories of George Wallace’s pro-segregation policies in the 1960s.

Valery Pozo, diversity director for the Associated Students of the University of Utah, said McIff’s statement resonated with her.

“Not allowing students to work or have access to other sources of funding really limits access to higher education,” Pozo said.

Pozo, along with other U students and student government leaders, lobbied state legislators by sending e-mails and making phone calls opposing the bill.

Students such as Yvette Gonzalez, a senior in social justice and education, coordinated community efforts against the bill. Gonzalez, who is the outreach coordinator of the Mestizo Arts and Activism program

on the West Side, involved high school and college students in research projects dealing with issues such as undocumented students paying in-state tuition. The program encourages political activism with the youth on the West Side.

“Everyone was on their toes, and when the bill was defeated there were tons of text messages that went out,” Gonzalez said. “Everyone is happy, but we still have concerns about other immigration bills.”

Bill sponsor Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, said the bill was about obeying existing laws against stealing Social Security numbers.

“Please, don’t misunderstand me8212;I do have sympathy for these people, I do believe they are in a bad situation, but I also believe in the rule of law,” Greenwood said. He questioned lawmakers, saying, “If that Social Security was your number, I wonder if you’d step on this floor and take the same position.”

Student Body President Patrick Reimherr, who spoke out against the bill in a committee meeting Feb. 18, said the bill makes assumptions that undocumented students are “actually going out there and stealing identities.”

“It’s really creating a situation where they can’t afford to go to school,” Reimherr said. “If they feel like their going to school is criminalized, that’s a hard thing to carry as a student.”

House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said the legislation was unnecessary. He said he would like to bring the voices of undocumented students “out of the shadows of fear and uncertainty.”

“These youth and families are no different than any of us,” Litvack said. “They have hopes and dreams and desires to be contributing members of our communities.”

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