Students rally at capitol for tuition equity

Hundreds of students and community members gathered in Salem on Wednesday for the House Committee on Rules hearing of Senate Bill 742, more commonly referred to as the Tuition Equity Bill.

Hundreds of students and community members gathered in Salem on Wednesday for the House Committee on Rules hearing of Senate Bill 742, more commonly referred to as the Tuition Equity Bill.

If passed, the bill would grant in-state tuition to all college-bound children of undocumented immigrants, provided that they have been in the United States for at least five years and attended Oregon schools for at least three years.

Despite being depicted as an education issue rather than an immigration issue, the bill has come under intense scrutiny and has been acutely divisive among party lines in the Legislature. Although the bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate by an 18-11 vote, its future in the House of Representatives is uncertain, if it even makes it out of the committee. 

Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the students who rallied on the steps of the state capitol prior to the committee hearing. An hour before the hearing began at 2 p.m., 17 students marched out onto the steps in graduation caps and gowns, illustrating an allegorical “graduation” for the would-be college graduates.

Speaking at the event was Marian Zamboni, a Guatemalan-born Californian who clearly personifies the issue.

“My family, after having fled Guatemala, couldn’t afford to put me through school, despite my being a high achiever in high school,” Zamboni said. “It wasn’t until California passed AB 540 [In-State Tuition Law] that I was able to attend UCLA.”

Zamboni, who went on to attend Harvard University, was one of the thousands of children of undocumented workers who have been affected by bills like SB 742 that have been passed in 11 states. Of those states, four are Republican leaning, including Texas, which has always remained a hard-line red state.

Nevertheless, during the hearings Representative Bob Jenson (R-District 58) urged the committee to view the issue from a bipartisan position.

“This is not an issue of party politics,” Jenson said. “This is an issue of education for all Oregonians.”

Despite the committee designating the bill as having “low economic impact,” opponents raised several concerns over the bill’s potential economic repercussions.

“If suddenly all these illegal students who are paying out-of-state tuition are given in-state tuition, then Oregon universities will lose the difference and will have to make it up somehow,” said Ted Campbell, an opponent of the bill.

Others opposed the bill on the grounds that it promotes continued illegal immigration.

“This bill is just bad policy and supports illegal activity,” Ruth Bindle said. “There are federal laws on the books that take precedence over this.”

Despite testimony against the bill, the crowd in attendance at the hearing was overwhelmingly supportive. The event, which not only filled the main hearing room but also two overflow rooms that televised the event, drew a diverse crowd of supporters.

“The presidents of PSU, U of O and OSU strongly support this bill,” said Roy Koch, vice provost of Academic Affairs at Portland State. “Education is a pathway to success, and tuition equity is the right thing to do.”

Also in attendance voicing support was Portland Community College President Dr. Preston Pulliams, as well as a plethora of educators, community members and students.

“It upsets me when people think that citizenship is defined more so by allegiance than how someone thinks or acts,” ASPSU Multicultural Affairs Director Shaymaa Taha said. “There are many illegal immigrants who contribute more to this country than many citizens. It’s their right we’re fighting for.”

In order for SB 742 to pass to the House floor, the bill must attain a vote of 5-3 in the eight-person committee. ?