The hot-button illegal immigration issue was front and center this week as Oregon lawmakers opened hearings on a bill to allow some students who are not legal citizens to pay in-state tuition at Oregon’s public universities.
The measure would charge the lower, in-state tuition rates to undocumented students if they have spent at least three years in an Oregon high school prior to graduating and are working toward U.S. residency.
Supporters said children of undocumented immigrants shouldn’t be punished for their parents’ actions by being saddled with out-of-state tuition that’s three times as expensive.
But critics testified that the bill would reward illegal behavior by giving undocumented students access to the cheaper tuition.
The House Education Committee plans further hearings on the issue, which also came up in the 2003 and 2005 sessions. Bills in those sessions were supported in the Democratic-controlled Senate but were defeated when GOP majorities in the House squelched the idea.
Democrats now control both chambers, although that’s not a guarantee that the controversial measure will pass this session.
Among those testifying in favor of the bill was Vidal Fuentes Ramos, a 22-year-old Washington County man who moved to Oregon from Mexico when he was 15.
Ramos graduated from Glencoe High School with a 3.77 grade point average and a dream of attending Portland State University but said his family’s low income makes it impossible for him to pay out-of-state tuition rates.
“To be honest, it makes me want to cry,” he said. “I have worked hard, though, so I’m not going to give up.”
The bill drew opposition from Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a group that for years has advocated a crackdown on illegal immigration. The group’s president, Jim Ludwick, noted that at the University of Oregon, in-state tuition is about $6,500 while out-of-state tuition is nearly $20,000.
Allowing non-citizens to enjoy lower tuition rates meant for legal Oregon residents runs counter to the concept of the rule of law, Ludwick said. “If I robbed a bank, I would be sent to jail, and my kids would have to fend for themselves,” he said. “You pay a price for the misdeeds of your parents.”
But Republican Sen. Frank Morse, a leading backer of the bill, said children of undocumented workers are in this country “through no fault of their own” and shouldn’t be penalized for it.
“You don’t improve society by denying them the opportunity for self-improvement through education,” the Albany lawmaker said.
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