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Rick Perry Isn’t Entirely Wrong on Illegal Tuition


Kevin covered last night’s Perry-Romney colloquy regarding illegal immigrant tuition well here. A couple of years ago, my organization conducted a poll that showed that 86 percent of Wisconsin residents opposed giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition, and 46 percent disapproved of “illegal immigrant children” attending public schools. Obviously, it makes sense for Romney to make this an issue, since opposing tuition for illegals is about as popular as opposing the guys at the mall who squirt lotion on you when you walk by.

But as Kevin points out, the issue is more nuanced than Perry’s opponents make it out to be. And it doesn’t help that Perry’s “heartless” response was woefully inadequate. (It also doesn’t help that Perry’s reasonable “DREAM Act” shares a name with President Obama’s less reasonable one.) Of course, children of illegal aliens born in America are American citizens, and therefore entitled to whatever tuition their state of residence permits for in-staters. Perry’s law dealt with the children of illegal immigrants who were brought here after their birth, making them just as illegal as their parents.

In most cases (and pursuant to the Plyler case cited by Kevin), these kids are already going to the same high schools as our kids (in the case of Texas, for at least three years of school). They have the same teachers. They play on the same sports teams. They take the same tests, and get the same high-school degree. They are indistinct from any other high-school students. By the time an undocumented child makes it from first grade to graduating high school, taxpayers have already sunk over $100,000 into that child’s education. To pull the plug on those children because of the actions of their parents would be unfair, and would nullify the investment taxpayers have already made in the kid.

Contrast that with a kid who goes to high school in, say, Georgia, then moves to Illinois, lives there for a year, and becomes eligible for in-state tuition. Even if the family of the immigrant had been paying state taxes (sales, property, and even income) for 18 years, the student from another state is granted the full state subsidy after only living there (and likely not attending school) for a year.

Detractors of Perry’s plan would say that such benefits constitute a “magnet” that draw illegals across the border. But the notion that families will risk their lives to cross the border in the hopes that their children will one day be able to pay in-state tuition seems far-fetched. In fact, a far more enticing inducement is simply the fact that if they try to cross the border, they will likely succeed.

Consequently, we should have strict immigration policies that keep people from entering our country illegally. But people who think the federal government is going to start rounding up law-abiding undocumented families and deporting them anytime soon are living in a dream world. (Criminals, on the other hand, should be banished immediately.)

So while they’re here, our state would be better off giving these kids the chance to make our country better, rather than sentencing them to a second-class existence. It’s not their fault.

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.


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