Bill Would Bar Undocumented Students From Resident Tuition Rates

Bill would bar undocumented students from resident tuition rates
In-state tuition measure would tighten, not repeal, 2002 law

By Sheena Mcfarland
The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City), February 3, 2009

There's a new proposal in the Legislature to restrict Utah's law allowing undocumented students who graduate from high school in the state to qualify for resident tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

Instead of repealing the 2002 in-state tuition law, as has repeatedly been tried unsuccessfully in recent years, Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, wants to require affected students to sign an affidavit each semester promising they haven't worked in the United States during the calendar year.

Greenwood's bill, which has yet to be numbered, is modeled after an amendment introduced just days before the end of the 2008 legislative session. That proposal by former Rep. Glenn Donnelson never received a public hearing or a vote.

'I'm sponsoring this bill not only to make sure that those who are receiving this are not committing a felony, but also to help make those students who are undocumented aware they are committing a felony by working using fraudulent documents,' Greenwood said.

Critics, though, say the bill unfairly targets undocumented students from lower-income families.

'This is only for people who are young and trying to better themselves,' said Philip Bernal, a member of The Utah Hispanic/Latino Legislative Task Force. 'It's saying 'If you want to get an education, you can't work to get an education like everyone else does.' '

He also says it's not the students committing a crime, but rather a company who hires an undocumented worker.

Community activist Michael Clara doesn't see the bill getting any traction.

'People are sympathetic to the fact that these children who go to college came to this country illegally by no fault of their own,' Clara said. 'They are here getting an education, and earned grades good enough to make it into college, but they're trying to throw up these silly roadblocks.'

Ronald Mortensen, who represents the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, strongly backs the bill.

'These are good kids, and we don't want them charged with identity theft at the age of 18, 19 or 20. That can ruin your life,' he said. 'We're giving them this special benefit of in-state tuition, and the only thing we're asking is they obey the laws.'

The bill would only apply during the years a student is in school and paying in-state tuition. But the penalty for violation would be permanent ineligibility for in-state tuition.

'It's all on an honor system,' Mortensen said. 'We're not looking to punish kids, but these are serious crimes and we ask they follow the rule of law.'