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Veto Dissolves College Dream

As An Illegal Immigrant Graduates, In-State Tuition Bill Dies

June 27, 2007
By MARK SPENCER, Courant Staff Writer

The future looked bright for the young woman, holding a white rose to symbolize hope, as she prepared to graduate under sunny skies Tuesday from Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven.

But a few minutes before she was handed her diploma, family members who were watching learned that the proud graduate's prospects had dimmed.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell vetoed a bill Tuesday that would have allowed students such as the woman - an undocumented immigrant from Mexico but a longtime Connecticut resident - to pay in-state tuition at public universities and colleges. Instead, they pay higher, often prohibitive, out-of-state tuition.

The woman, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Victoria, said she has been accepted at the University of Connecticut and wants to study criminal justice. But she said she cannot attend, unable to afford the higher tuition.

"So many dreams have been shattered today," said Nadia Minor, Victoria's cousin, who had given her the rose.

In issuing her fifth veto this year, Rell said she sympathized with the students the bill sought to help, many of whom were brought to the country illegally by their parents when they were young.

"The fact remains, however, that these students and their parents are here illegally and neither sympathy nor good intentions can ameliorate that fact," Rell said in a statement.

Immigration advocates had hoped Rell's strong support for education would lead her to sign the bill, but the Republican governor would have had to buck her party to do so. Although the bill passed the House 77-68 and the Senate 21-15, not a single Republican legislator voted for it.

Senate Majority Leader Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Democrats probably will revive the bill next year and try to work with Rell to win her support.

"These young people are the friends and classmates of our own children and grandchildren," Looney said. "They are Connecticut residents and are American in every way, except for the circumstances of their childhood. They should not have to suffer for a decision that their parents made very long ago."

Supporters estimated that 200 to 250 students would have been eligible for the lower tuition this year under the bill. They would have been required to sign an affidavit that they would try to become legal.

Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, one of the bill's strongest opponents, said that he understood the desire of families to provide opportunities for their children, but that limited financial resources must be directed to legal residents. He said the lower tuition would cost the state about $2 million in lost revenue.

"I'm against people breaking the law and then getting special benefits," Debicella said.

The House and the Senate each debated the bill for about three hours before approving it.

Rell said illegal immigration has created needs at the state level, "but since the underlying issues are a matter of national concern and need to be addressed by the Congress, the most prudent course for the state of Connecticut is to wait for resolution at the federal level."

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said 10 states have passed in-state tuition bills, which help young immigrants become part of the fabric of society.

"Unfortunately, the governor would rather put the onus on Congress to achieve what we here in Connecticut are already willing, ready and able to do," he said. "It's a shame."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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