Kansas Immigration Hearing Draws Emotional Response

TOPEKA, Kan. — An emotional crowd gathered for a House committee hearing on a measure that seeks to repeal in-state tuition for Kansas students without legal residency.

The measure under consideration in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee would repeal the nearly 10-year-old statute that allows students who graduate from Kansas high schools and have lived in Kansas for at least three years to pay in-state tuition at state universities and community colleges, regardless of their residency status, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Wednesday.

Kim Voth, a Wichita school counselor, said that before coming to testify before the committee, she spoke with one of her students who used the in-state tuition law to get an education degree and has since become a U.S. citizen and a teacher.

“I asked her what I should say today,” Voth said, beginning to cry. “She got very quiet, then said, ‘Please tell them that my college degree changed my life.’“

Fred Logan of the Kansas Board of Regents said more than 500 of the 630 immigrants currently accessing in-state tuition attend community colleges. He said the 2004 law treats students without legal status fairly.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the repeal bill’s chief proponent, argued that natives of foreign countries who follow the legal process of getting student visas to attend Kansas universities have to pay out-of-state tuition.

“I think that is an absurd reverse incentive,” Kobach said. “If you follow the law, we’re charging you three times more.”

The biggest response from the crowded gallery came when Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, ended a series of questions to Kobach.

“I think it’s funny, Mr. Kobach, because when you mention illegal immigrants, I think of all of you,” said Victors, the lone American Indian in the legislature.

People in the gallery then applauded, which is rare in such hearings. The committee did not take action on the bill.