With the implementation of a state anti-illegal immigration law looming, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education on Thursday adopted a new policy to restrict financial aid for undocumented students and toughen in-state tuition requirements.
By a 5-1 vote, with three abstentions, regents approved the changes, a week before House Bill 1804 goes into effect.
Under the new rules, undocumented students who have lived in Oklahoma for at least two years and graduate from a state high school will remain eligible to receive state financial aid if they have filed an application with the federal government to legalize their immigration status.
Had the regents not acted Thursday, House Bill 1804 would have rendered ineffective the regents’ previous policy, adopted in 2003, regarding financial aid and in-state tuition for undocumented students. But the law provided that regents could adopt a new policy to establish conditions under which undocumented students could still be eligible to pay resident tuition and receive state financial aid.
Under the old policy, undocumented students who had lived in the state for two years and either graduated from high school or obtained a GED in the state could establish eligibility to pay resident tuition and receive state financial aid by filing an affidavit stating the student would apply to legalize immigration status as soon as he or she was eligible to do so.
Now, that affidavit would only establish eligibility to pay in-state tuition. To establish eligibility to receive state financial aid, the student must file with the federal government an application to legalize his or her immigration status. The eligibility of students with a GED also has been eliminated.
State Rep. Shane Jett, R-Tecumseh, told regents that 244 undocumented students attending Oklahoma colleges during the 2005-06 school year received some sort of state aid to do so. Jett leads the Advancement of Hispanic Students in Higher Education Task Force.
Jett said those 244 students received a combined $112,000 in state aid while paying more than $238,000 in tuition and fees. He said the total of all state financial aid to the students is about 0.109 percent of the amount provided to all Oklahoma students during the 2005-06 school year.
Jett noted the human cost of the regents’ policy changes made necessary by House Bill 1804.
“What we don’t want to do is punish these kids for the ‘sins of their fathers,'” Jett said.
“Until we address the real issue of immigration reform, and that is two federal governments on two sides of the Rio Grande not keeping their promises and not doing what they’re supposed to do, then we can’t think that we can implement a unilateral policy in the state of Oklahoma that’s designed to punish the victims of these two federal governments dropping the ball.”
Regent Stuart Price of Tulsa said he voted against making the policy changes as a sort of protest of House Bill 1804. He called the law “inhuman, unfair, shortsighted and even opposed by the State Chamber” and asked, “How low will this law go?”
Regents Julie Carson of Claremore, Joseph Parker Jr. of Tulsa and Marlin Glass of Newkirk abstained from voting.
Rep. Randy Terrill, R-Moore, the co-author of House Bill 1804, didn’t immediately return a phone message left at his office Thursday afternoon by The Associated Press.
Should House Bill 1804 be stayed in court, a provision adopted by regents Thursday would allow their policy to revert to the one they established in 2003 until the stay is lifted or the regents take further action.
— Associated Press
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