DENVER – People turned out in droves yesterday for a meeting of the Metropolitan State University of Denver’s (MSU) Board of Trustees to consider whether or not to provide a special discount to illegal alien students.
Currently, illegal alien students must pay the same tuition as out-of-state U.S. citizen students.
The Board’s controversial decision to grant a lower tuition rate to illegal immigrants met with cheers from many in attendance, but critics charge that the proposal is bad for the school’s reputation, circumvents the will of the legislature, violates federal law, and will make Colorado a magnet for more illegal immigration.
Under Metro’s plan, a new, reduced tuition rate would be provided to illegal immigrants who have attended a Colorado high school for at least three years, graduated (or obtained a GED), and are seeking legal status.
MSU Denver has been working on the proposal since October and finally approved the program yesterday.
The board clearly expected a contentious debate. Board Chair Robert Cohen even felt the need to lay down some ground rules for the morning’s discussion.
“It’s about respect and freedom of speech on both sides,” Cohen said, explaining that everyone was to have a chance to speak.
There was little debate, however, as the board discussed the issue and allowed audience members voice their opinions. Most attendees spoke in favor of the controversial new policy, which the board ultimately voted to approve 7-1.
One person, Joe Farber, testified against the policy. “I consider this [the new tuition policy] a low blow to education,” Farber said.
Though there weren’t many other dissenting voices at the meeting, arguments against the new tuition measure are many and varied.
Some note that the legislature has already rejected tuition discounts for illegal aliens on numerous occasions, most recently earlier this year.
The Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow (ASSET) bill, which would have created a framework identical to the one the MSU board approved, was rejected by the legislature in April.
Critics also charge that federal law bars tuition discounts for illegal aliens, unless the same discount is provided to all U.S. citizen students, regardless of their state of residence – potentially costing the state millions of dollars.
The operative section of the 1996 law, 8 USC 1623, which was approved by a GOP-controlled Congress and signed into law by then-President Clinton, reads:
Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.
Despite the plain wording of the statute, however, the Board claims that its actions are perfectly legal.
Colorado college boards have traditionally had the power to set tuition rates, proponents argue, and as long as MSU Denver does not give state or federal funding to illegal immigrant students, they say, the school is not in violation of the law.
Vice Chairman Michelle Lucero argued that rather than skirting the legislature’s decision, the board has “provided an opportunity for kids who didn’t otherwise have it.”
Terrance Carroll, a member of the board and former Speaker of the Statehouse, took the argument a step further by stating “Sometimes, our political leaders are behind the times.” It is often up to educational institutions, he said, to show politicians the path to progress.
But board member Jack Pogge, who provided the sole “no” vote, says that the school board does not have the authority to make a decision that runs counter to the will of the Colorado Legislature.
Pogge asserted that “the legislature is the voice of the people” and that a decision to offer lower tuition rates to illegals has so many statewide and national implications that the board alone should not have the authority to make a ruling.
“This is a big problem that should be resolved by comprehensive immigration reform,” he said.
Most of those who spoke to the board talked about a “right” to an education and the opportunity to succeed.
Democrat State Representative Crisanta Duran, who introduced the ASSET bill in the legislature, explained that lower tuition for illegal immigrants should not be a political issue, but should be about giving people from every background an opportunity to succeed.
“I have no idea what it’s like for a parent to leave a hostile country,” she said, referencing the transition made by some illegal immigrants, “…quite frankly, I don’t want to know.”
Others, such as former U.S. Congressman Tom Tancredo, feel that programs like this one will only encourage more illegal immigration.
“Metro can start a whole new degree program,” Tancredo quipped, “a B.A. in Living Illegally in the USA.”
“[Metro could offer] classes in how to get a free education for your kids. How to get free medical care for you and your family. How to scam taxpayers and get your college tuition paid for. How to get a job after you get your degree from Metro even though it is illegal to work in the country,” Tancredo added, “Very enterprising, don’t you think?”
Critics will likely challenge the legality of the new policy, which is schedule to go into effect later this year.