Immigrant tuition bill up to committee

Among bills being heard by the Oregon Senate Education and Workforce Committee today is one that would allow undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state public universities.

Senate Bill 769, called the "tuition equity bill" by supporters, would allow students who are not citizens of the United States or legal resident aliens to receive in-state tuition from all seven public universities in Oregon. The student will be required to have attended at least three consecutive years of high school in the state or have received an Oregon high school diploma and plan to become a citizen or resident alien.

The bill has broad support from a variety of immigrant rights organizations as well as the Oregon University System (OUS) and the Oregon Students Association (OSA). The bill would increase enrollment at Oregon’s public universities, bringing in badly needed tuition dollars, supporters say. It would also increase the pool of educated workers in the state in the future.

Portland State is supportive of the bill as a member of OUS, according to Debbie Murdock, assistant to the president for government relations.

"OUS supports this bill," she said. "Access is a priority for the system, and we support access."

However, several organizations opposed to the high influx of illegal immigrants into the U.S. have spoken out against the bill.

"Citizens are beginning to realize that an ever-increasing amount of money is being spent on the education of illegal aliens. This is money that should be spent on educating American school children," says a statement on the web site of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, a group that opposes the bill.

Supporters of the bill respond that students should not be unfairly disadvantaged for their parents’ transgressions.

"These kids aren’t coming here for college, they’re coming here as small children," said Caroline Ega, field coordinator for Oregon Students of Color Coalition, an affiliate of OSA. "To punish them for their parents’ sins seems kind of ridiculous."

Similar laws already exist in other states, including Washington and California. A similar bill was also proposed in Oregon in 2003 as Senate Bill 10, but the bill was stalled in the Education and Workforce Committee.

This year’s bill has far better chances of making it to a vote, as it has "strong support" in the Education and Workforce Committee, according to Ega.

Supporters of the current Oregon bill plan to hold a rally in Salem on April 12.

The bill is just one of several regarding higher education being discussed by the Education and Workforce Committee today, as it is the deadline for bills to be passed out of committee.