PHILADELPHIA – Undocumented immigrants would qualify for the less expensive in-state tuition rates at Pennsylvania universities if they meet residency requirements included in proposed legislation introduced Monday.
The DREAM Act would offer an affordable education to college-bound teens who are here illegally through no fault of their own, its primary sponsor, state Rep. Tony Payton Jr., said at a news conference in Philadelphia.
“They grew up Americans, they show civic pride, they have American values,” said Payton, a Democratic lawmaker from the city. “We should not be punishing kids for a choice that their parents made.”
About a dozen states already offer tuition benefits to undocumented college students, many of whom were brought to America as children. Supporters say such legislation leads to a more educated work force and costs the states almost nothing.
But state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, founder of a national group of lawmakers critical of undocumented immigration, blasted the proposed Pennsylvania bill and predicted it would fail to pass the Legislature.
“All Pennsylvania parents and college students should be outraged that Rep. Payton has introduced legislation to make it more affordable for illegal aliens to attend college,” Metcalfe, R-Butler, said in a statement Monday.
The federal DREAM Act, which contains similar provisions, has repeatedly failed in Congress. Critics say it would encourage foreigners to sneak into the U.S. and amounts to amnesty.
About 850 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school in Pennsylvania each year, according to the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition.
If they are admitted to college and meet certain residency criteria and if their parents have paid state income taxes for the past three years, the state DREAM Act would allow them to pay resident tuition at 14 state-owned universities, four state-related universities and community colleges.
In-state tuition for the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is $5,804 annually, compared with $8,706 to $14,510 for out-of-state residents. A system spokeswoman declined comment.
Cesar Marroquin, 20, is among those who would qualify. He has been living in Pennsylvania for a decade and graduated two years ago from Springfield Township High School near Philadelphia.
Now attending Montgomery County Community College, Marroquin pays about $900 a class, the tuition rate for foreign students, instead of the $300 paid by his in-state peers. Because his immigration status makes him ineligible for financial aid, Marroquin can afford only a small courseload.
Marroquin said at the news conference that his parents, who brought him to this country from Peru when he was 9, “work hard and pay taxes every single year.” But the high tuition makes him feel like pursuing an education is impossible, he said.
“All I’m asking for is the opportunity to contribute to the country that has given me so much,” Marroquin said. “An affordable education is the first step toward fulfilling my dream of giving back to my country, the United States.”
DREAM Act supporters say the bill’s direct cost is negligible, in part because of the small number of students who would qualify. They also note that many illegal immigrants could not afford college without the benefit, so their in-state tuition payments would represent new revenue.
DREAM stands for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors.