The Daily Free Press - News
Issue: 11/1/05

Local leaders demand fair tuition for immigrants
By Jarina D’Auria

Religious leaders gathered at the State House on Monday to promote the In-State Tuition Bill, which would allow children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates for public universities.

Currently, students without legal citizenship documentation pay nearly triple the amount for out-of-state tuition rates, leaving most without any hope of attending college.

The primary goal of the bill, advocates said, is to give hardworking immigrant students with high academic standing the chance to afford a higher education. To qualify for the discounted tuition rate, students would need to attend high school in Massachusetts for three years, graduate from high school in the state and sign an agreement confirming
their intention to become legal citizens.

Leading the conference was Filipe Teixeira, a bishop at St. Martin De Porres Church, who called upon fellow religious leaders to support the proposal. The speakers represented many factions of the community, varying in religious backgrounds, but despite their differences, all of them agreed that providing all the nation's children with higher education would benefit society as a whole.

Hurmon Hamilton, the senior pastor of Roxbury Presbyterian Church, said prohibiting qualified students -- legal or illegal -- to obtain a higher education is immoral. Most of these immigrant students have lived the majority of their lives in the United States.

"We are all children of immigrants, and these students are no different, because they were also raised by our culture [and] values and shaped by our American system," he said.

Hamilton said the United States is a nation of immigrants who neither documented nor legalized their citizenship, making every person today a child of an illegal immigrant. He called on the State Legislature to have "compassion for our children, who are not asking for a free ride, but simply a seat on the bus."

Quoting Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel's line, "no human being is illegal," Lena Deevy, executive director of the Irish Immigration Center, said immigrants would be left vulnerable if the bill is not passed. They, too, deserve a fair chance to succeed in life, and denying their right to an education would be denying their humanity, she said.

Both Barbara Penzner, president of the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, and Hamza Pelletier, a representative from the Islamic Society of Boston, used stories from their respective religions to stress the importance of education in today's world.

Penzner said society needs to embrace these students rather than shun them.

"Let us not begrudge these children -- the bounty of our fine education system, the bedrock of our values and the source of the American dream," she said.

Penzner said by limiting education for illegal immigrants, "our progress will not be progress at all."

For three years, these religious leaders, along with immigrant students, have been working to persuade the State Legislature to pass this bill. All the speakers agreed that these immigrants deserve the right to a fair chance in this country. They reminded the Legislature of the moral issue behind the bill, saying the only thing keeping these bright students from attending college is their citizenship status.

Massachusetts would become the 10th state to pass a bill of this kind, following California, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.