Lone Latina Senator in Mass. Defends Tuition Plan

BOSTON – Massachusetts’ only Latina state senator defended a state proposal Wednesday to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants and accused critics of the plan of spreading “fiction.”

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz said House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones Jr. is misleading voters by saying such a plan would hurt taxpayers. She pointed to a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation 2006 report that said it would raise revenue.

“This fiction has gone on long enough,” Chang-Diaz, a Boston Democrat, said in a statement. “Leader Jones knows—or should know, before opining publicly on an issue—that in-state tuition is a reform that would actually generate revenue for the state at a time when we desperately need it.”

Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, told immigrant advocates Tuesday that he wanted to implement an advisory panel’s recommendations of immigration reform, which included the in-state tuition plan. But he said he wanted a federal law passed first before Massachusetts could adopt the in-state tuition plan, to make sure any state law would withstand challenges, a spokesman said.

Jones, a Republican from North Reading, called the plan “a ridiculous idea” and said lawmakers should instead focus on fixing the state’s economy.

“Representative Jones stands by his comments that pushing this agenda sends a bad message to the hard working citizens of the Commonwealth who are struggling to make ends meet,” Jones spokeswoman Sarah Scalese said last Wednesday.

“Given the economic climate, it is critical that Beacon Hill works aggressively to stimulate the economy and get people back to work,” she said. “Providing in-state tuition to those here illegally should not be a priority.”

Several states, including California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin, allow undocumented students to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates. Federal law does not forbid illegal immigrants from attending universities and colleges in the U.S.

On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that undocumented immigrants who meet residency requirements are entitled to the same tuition breaks offered to in-state high school students to attend that state’s public colleges and universities.

Nearly four years ago, Massachusetts House lawmakers soundly rejected a bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates.