Report Out on Jan 27 Hearing on In-State Tuition

Today's Public Hearing on In-state Tuition legislation was extremely positive overall.

CSfC turned out about a dozen people to the packed hearing room. Great job everyone! Richard and Pamela testified as a panel on behalf of Cambridge-Somerville for Change -- very exciting! Tony, Alex, and Pamela spent the morning visiting cam-som delegation in their offices, introducing themselves to their legislative aides, and having productive conversations about the bill.

About 10 panels and numerous individuals spoke eloquently and powerfully in favor of the bill, including public college deans, immigrant service groups, immigrant students, legal advocates, and labor union leaders. Reps Tim Toomey (Cam.) and Denise Provost (Som.), as well as Sens. Pat Jehlen (Som.) and Alice Wolf (Cam.) all spoke knowledgeably and convincingly on behalf of the legislation. The one detractor during the 2.5 hour hearing came from a member of the Higher Ed. Committee itself: Rep. Don Humason (R-Westfield).

Follow the jump below for the article from the State House News wire.

And see you all next on Feb. 8th at 6:30pm for our next meeting - location TBD.


By Kyle Cheney

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JAN. 27, 2010…..Extending lower in-state tuition rates to eligible undocumented immigrants has taken on new urgency after the earthquake that leveled Haiti, orphaning thousands and sending many residents to the United States for shelter, supporters argued Wednesday.

“Their parents are dead and they’re trying to figure out what’s going to happen,” said Rep. Marie St. Fleur (D-Boston), sponsor of legislation to offer in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants, which went almost completely unopposed during a packed hearing before the Committee on Higher Education.

St. Fleur emphasized that many undocumented U.S. residents end up in the United States as refugees or are waiting for the government to process their papers.

Offering in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants is a well-worn and oft-defeated issue on Beacon Hill, a lightning rod for critics who say those here illegally shouldn’t be offered the benefit of an education at a cheaper rate than a legal resident from another state would pay. Opponents say the bill fills classroom seats that would otherwise go to legal U.S. residents and draws down state resources.

“The first thing we try to teach our own citizens … is that America is a nation of laws,” said Rep. Don Humason (R-Westfield). “We need to follow those laws and those rules. How is it fair … [to provide illegal immigrants] an advantage that other citizens may not have?”

Gov. Deval Patrick voiced support for the in-state tuition proposal during his 2006 campaign but hasn’t pushed for the bill since taking office. He has, when asked, indicated that the issue is still on his radar, but has made no serious attempt to advance the proposal.

Wednesday’s hearing, which featured overwhelming support for St. Fleur’s bill (H 1175 / S 603), belied the deep division among policymakers on the bill. The bill failed in the House in 2006 on a 57-97 vote, with legislators insisting that immigration laws must be upheld and no benefits should be enacted to support illegal immigrants. Backers of the issue, at the time, also faced the prospect of a veto from then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Although many members of the House have turned over since the defeat, the bill’s opponents included Rep. Robert DeLeo (D-Winthrop), who has since risen to lead the House.

There’s been no perceptible momentum behind the bill this session – legislative and executive branch leaders have said little about in-state tuition for years. Supporters have acknowledged that it would be a politically risky vote for lawmakers to take.

“It’s a tough one for elected people with constituents because you have to answer to them,” said Aaron Spencer, a former member of the Board of Higher Education.

In fact, most of DeLeo’s current leadership voted to reject the bill in 2006, including Majority Leader James Vallee and Reps. Thomas Petrolati, Patricia Haddad, Ron Mariano, Kathi-Anne Reinstein and Garrett Bradley. Current floor leaders Byron Rushing and Ellen Story supported the bill at that time. The proposals are co-sponsored by 34 representatives and eight senators, although its lead Senate sponsor, Anthony Galluccio, has since resigned and is serving a year in prison for violating parole.

Backers of the bill argued Thursday they can’t conceive of a downside – the bill only benefits children who have gone through high school in Massachusetts, would bring in tuition the state wouldn’t otherwise capture and wouldn’t fill classroom seats that would otherwise go to legal state residents. In addition, they said, the scope of the bill is narrow, affecting only a few hundred students who qualify. Those students then increase their likelihood to go on to productive careers, becoming reliable taxpayers. Those students would bring in about $2.5 million to $3 million in tuition payments, backers said.

Several officials from state colleges across Massachusetts indicated they could take on the additional students that may apply to their schools if in-state tuition were available. In addition, supporters were quick to emphasize that the proposal isn’t simply a liberal ideal: similar policies exist in Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Utah. Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz (D-Jamaica Plain) noted that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Republican, and conservative Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby have expressed support for similar policies.

Some lawmakers appealed to committee members own lineage – St. Fleur noted that some of their ancestors fled famine to reach the United States. Others, noted Chang-Diaz, serve in the armed forces.

The bill is tailored to apply to those residents who have spent several years in the Massachusetts public school system, many of whom, supporters say, were brought here by their parents as young children. In addition, those students would have to present an affidavit indicating their intention to apply for citizenship, and they would be ineligible for financial aid.

“More often than not, [opponents of in-state tuition] have visions of the illegal immigrants jumping over fences and running over fields and applying for college,” said Spencer, the Board of Higher Education member. “We’re talking about the kids. These are little kids when they came into this country holding the hands of their parents.”

Lawmakers on the committee wondered whether an undocumented immigrant could apply for citizenship. Renata, an undocumented immigrant from Brazil, said current law prevents her from doing so but that she may sign an affidavit declaring her intention to apply, should the law change to permit it.

Another undocumented immigrant, Mario Rodas, a Guatemalan native whose parents brought him to the United States when he was 12, said that he had been granted political asylum and is therefore able to apply for permanent residence, which he expects to earn soon. Rodas added that he has been unable to attend college because it is unaffordable, despite making significant academic gains during high school.

“When it was time for me to start thinking about going to college just like my other classmates were thinking, that’s when I found out through my history teacher that it would be more difficult for me to go to college because of my immigration status,” said Rodas, a Chelsea resident. “I went through a lot of anxiety and I kept thinking about my future.”


1 Response to "Report Out on Jan 27 Hearing on In-State Tuition"

Pamela said... February 10, 2010 at 3:21 AM

Thanks for the props, Alena! From the website you posted it looks like we share a common value in higher education. The Immigration Team is urging people to call Governor Deval Patrick to thank him for supporting in-state tuition. We don't want to lose the next class of graduates (Class of 2010) who can't afford to go to college! Keep reading the blog. And your feedback is welcome anytime!


Cambridge-Somerville for Change is an all-volunteer community group dedicated to harnessing the grassroots energy and spirit of change inspired by the Obama campaign. Our organizing work includes electoral and issue-based campaigns at the local, state, and national level. Our members have chosen to work on promoting economic fairness, comprehensive health care reform, creating policies that conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide for fair and adequate access to public transportation, and promoting in-state tuition for immigrant youth.

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