Lawmaker: Budget woes mean in-state tuition goes

Education » He says with enrollment caps, cuts, there's not room for students who are not documented.

By Sheena McFarland
And Brian Maffly

The Salt Lake Tribune

Updated: 02/11/2010 09:46:37 AM MST

A bill that would repeal in-state tuition for children of undocumented immigrants is making its sixth legislative appearance in seven years. But this time, proponents will argue that budget cuts and possible enrollment caps means there might not be enough room for citizens, let alone students who aren't documented.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, is planning to run a bill that would repeal a 2002 state law that grants in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants' children who graduate from a Utah high school.

The bill has not been written yet, but Greenwood says he will closely model it after bills that have been introduced nearly every year since the law took effect. All have failed.

Greenwood's new argument is that budget cuts and growing enrollment are prompting some schools, notably Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College, to consider enrollment caps. Those schools have the largest numbers of undocumented students.

"We've got legal citizens who can't get in classes that undocumented students are sitting in," Greenwood said. "We should pay more attention to those who are here legally. They should be sitting in those seats before an undocumented alien."

Theresa Martinez, assistant vice president for academic outreach and a professor of sociology at the University of Utah, has battled previous attempts to repeal the law. Martinez, who is in charge of recruiting first-generation students at the U., called the renewed repeal effort "unbelievable" and dismissed Greenwood's rationale as "unconscionable."

She said the appropriate response to college crowding is better financial support of the institutions, especially open-access community colleges, so they can take all comers.

"You don't lay blame at the feet of children who have no decisions in the matter," Martinez said. "They want to lead productive lives. We should be fighting to accommodate them. What a wonderful thing that they can get into college and want to give back to their community."

Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. was a champion of the law that allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, and Gov. Gary Herbert sees no need to change it.

"As graduates of Utah high schools, these students, and presumably their families, have contributed to the state and their communities," said Herbert's spokeswoman, Angie Welling. "As such, the governor believes they qualify for in-state tuition."

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, supports repeal of the tuition law, arguing that undocumented immigrants should not be afforded opportunities that come at the expense of citizens.

"If schools start enacting enrollment caps, will schools deny citizens admission and allow an illegal alien to enter?" Mortensen said. "If a citizen can't get the classes he needs to graduate, but the illegal alien does, it doesn't make sense because the illegal alien can't legally work when he graduates."

Other advocates of the current law, though, observed that many undocumented students come from working families whose taxes support Utah education. And last year, the Legislature killed what few institutionally funded scholarships were available to them.

Like some of his predecessors in student government, U. student body president Tayler Clough favors making in-state tuition, which is $10,000 less than what out-of-state students pay, available to undocumented students who attended Utah high schools.

"An education should have no boundaries," Clough said. Making people who already have economic barriers pay higher tuition sends the wrong message. "Not only are you excluding them, you are telling them they don't deserve an education."

Frank Cordova, chairman of the board of Centro Civico, calls Greenwood's proposed bill "ridiculous."

"It's on the verge of racism," Cordova said. "Any nation or state that does not allow a child to receive equal education, well, there is something totally wrong with their concepts of equality."

Attempts to repeal in-state tuition
In 2002, the state Legislature passed a bill that allows children of undocumented immigrants who graduate from a Utah high school to pay in-state tuition. Since 2004, Utah lawmakers have tried to repeal the law in its entirety or add further restrictions.