In-State Tuition Debate Isn’t About In-State Tuition

by Mark Krikorian

Kevin: Welcome to my world! On the specific point that you and Heather brought up about the federal law related to in-state tuition: the law does, in fact, require any state that gives tuition discounts based on residency to illegal aliens to extend the same discounts to Americans from other states. However, California successfully defended its in-state tuition law earlier this year by arguing that the tuition discount is based on graduation from a California high school, not residency (I believe the Texas law works the same way). This is sophistry, to be sure, subverting the intent of the federal law, but then law is sophistry, so any future attempt by Congress to prevent this sort of thing will have to be drafted more carefully.

More generally, though, the in-state tuition debate isn’t really about tuition at all — it’s about amnesty. First of all, the “DREAM Act” moniker is borrowed from proposed federal legislation which would have legalized certain illegal aliens brought here before their 16th birthday — an amnesty, in other words. The state-level “DREAM Acts” are just efforts at creating momentum and awareness for the amnesty legislation.

What’s more, the conservative defenses of Perry’s in-state tuition subsidy for illegals implicitly assume it’s the first step toward amnesty. For instance, Christian Schneider’s comments here in the Corner:

By the time an undocumented [sic!] 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. …

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.

The same sentiment in Saturday’s Post from someone claiming to represent a Tea Party group:

“Yeah, you could say that some taxpayer dollars are being used, but at the same time those kids graduate from college and go on to create money for the economy.”

And Gov. Perry himself, in the Tampa debate earlier this month, said:

We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. That if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we’re going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.

The problem with this, of course, is that once they graduate with this taxpayer-subsidized education, they’re still illegal aliens and so it’s illegal to hire them. (The stuff about “pursuing citizenship” is meaningless chaff — there’s no such thing for people in this situation.) They’re not going to “make our country better” or “go on to create money for the economy” or be “contributing members in the state of Texas” if they’re still illegal aliens.

Now, maybe there’s an argument to be made for legalizing certain illegal aliens brought here at a very young age whose identities were formed here and who know no other country. Actually, I’ve made that very argument many times. But if we’re going to debate amnesty for people in this situation, then let’s debate amnesty. Arguing for in-state tuition for illegal aliens without making plain that the real objective is legal status is incomplete at best, dishonest at worst.

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