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House Passes In-State Tuition Bill For Undocumented Immigrants

Mark Spencer

May 13, 2011

Legislators invoked their own immigrant roots Thursday in explaining their stands on a bill to allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Connecticut. The measure passed the state House of Representatives, 77-63.

Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, whose parents fled a war-torn China, said that immigrants deserved a chance to make a better life and contribute to their new country.

"This bill is about who we are and who we ought to be," Tong said during the five-hour debate.

But opponent Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury, described the hardships he faced as a young immigrant and became emotional when he recalled the day in 1971 when he arrived at John F. Kennedy Airport from his native Lebanon.

"No one came to me and said, 'I want to give you a break,' " Noujaim said.

With Thursday's party-line vote, supporters of the bill appeared to be in the home stretch of a drive that started at least six years ago. They came close in 2007, when a bill passed the House and Senate, but it received no Republican support and was vetoed by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

This year the bill passed the legislature's higher education committee on a 11-8 vote, and supporters were not sure until recent days that they had the votes in the House. In the Senate, Majority Leader Martin Looney, D-New Haven, is a strong backer of in-state tuition and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy showed his support by introducing the bill.

"I believe we will pass it in the Senate," Looney said after the House vote.

The bill would allow undocumented students who attended high school for at least four years in the state, graduated and been accepted at a higher education institution to pay the lower tuition.

Students also would be required to file an affidavit with their school saying they were seeking legal status or would do so in the future if they became eligible.

Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, led supporters in the debate, arguing that the students it would benefit had no control over their parents' decision to bring them illegally to the United States.

Democrats said that many of the students came to this country when they were young, do not know their home countries and consider themselves Americans. Some didn't even realize they were undocumented until they started thinking about college and their parents explained why it might not be possible.

"These students cannot pay the out-of-state rates," said Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury. "It just makes it beyond reach."

In-state tuition is typically about one-third the cost of out-of-state tuition.

Many opponents said they empathized with undocumented students, but were concerned about other students being edged out, especially at highly competitive schools such as the University of Connecticut.

"They might lose a seat that they have qualified for to someone who is not here legally," said Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton.

Supporters estimate that about 250 students would benefit from the bill. Most would attend community colleges where space is available with only a few being able to afford UConn, even at the lower rate, they said.

Republicans also argued that the bill would cost too much at a time when the state could not afford it, but Democrats cited a report from the state's Office of Fiscal Analysis that said there would be no fiscal impact.

Ten states allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, while three states explicitly prohibit it and three prohibit such students from attending some or all of their public colleges and universities. Courts have upheld the legality of in-state tuition, although several cases are pending.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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