Rhode Island gives in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students
Rhode Island education officials have voted to let high school graduates who are in the country illegally pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, acting on an issue that state lawmakers have dodged and that has entered into the debate among the Republican presidential hopefuls.
The vote Monday night followed an hours-long public hearing punctuated by boos, cheers, and heated comments from audience members on both sides of the question. Eleven of the 13 members of the Board of Governors for Higher Education were there, and all voted in favor of the measure.
The measure allows children of illegal immigrants who attended high school in Rhode Island for at least three years and who have graduated high school or received an equivalent degree to pay in-state tuition of $9,824, compared to $25,912 for out-of-state students. The rule takes effect next year.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which monitors states' legislative activity, 12 other states have similar laws. They include Texas, whose Republican governor, Rick Perry, has been dogged by the issue as he faces off against rival presidential candidates who oppose it.
Rhode Island's higher education officials took up the matter after the state's legislature repeatedly failed to act on it over the years, apparently fearful of backlash from voters.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, was among those supporting the measure.
"This policy change will improve the intellectual and culture life of Rhode Island while strengthening our workforce and helping our economy," the governor wrote in a letter Sunday to the education board.
But several of the speakers Monday at the meeting in Warwick, RI, argued that the unelected educational board had no legal right to impose such legislation, The Associated Press reported. It was unclear if they would try to block its implementation through legal measures.
Opponents included Tea Party members as well as Terry Gorman, executive director of a group called Rhode Island for Immigration Law Enforcement, who said the measure was akin to "aiding and abetting" illegal immigrants.
"I've met a lot of these students," Gorman said, AP reported. "My heart goes out to them, but their parents put them in this situation."
-- Tina Susman in New York
Photo: Supporters shout support for letting illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Rhode Island public colleges during a Board of Governors of Higher Education meeting in Warwick, R.I. Credit: Steven Senne/Associated Press.