Bill could cause illegal immigrants to drop out
Legislation to repeal in-state tuition breaks for illegal immigrants gained momentum on Capitol Hill Friday as representatives for Summit County in the Utah Legislature blasted backers of the bill.
At issue is whether the state should continue to allow illegal immigrants who attend Utah high schools for three years and graduate or receive equivalent diplomas to pay the same discounted in-state tuition costs as Utah residents.
House Bill 224 seeks to repeal the law and while several Latinos tried to kill it, a legislative standing committee voted 9-5 to keep HB224 alive for debate on the House floor.
The two House members who represent Summit County say they’ll vote against repealing the current law.
"I think it’s done a lot more good than harm," said Rep. Mel Brown, a Coalville Republican who represents Park City in Utah’s House of Representatives. "They went through our public [education] system and we’ve already got an investment in them."
Still, supporters of HB224 say illegal immigrants are encouraged by state law to break U.S. immigration laws by attending college in Utah without the ability to work during school or after graduation.
"We’re selling false dreams of having them work here legally and we need to stop that," said Rep. Glenn Donnelson, the North Ogden Republican sponsoring HB224.
In 2002, Park City’s representative at the time, Kamas Republican David Ure, sponsored the controversial bill that allowed illegal immigrants to begin receiving tuition breaks.
Donnelson has fought repeatedly for the law’s repeal.
"I think I’m on the right track," he said Friday.
Donnelson insists lawmakers violated federal immigration laws by allowing illegal immigrants to receive benefits not provided to U.S. citizens outside the state.
States cannot provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants without providing it to all Americans, he claims.
The current law is expected to benefit between 160 and 184 illegal immigrants who are attending college this year. Subsidizing higher education for these students costs taxpayers $1.1 million per year, critics say.
"It does conflict with state law," said former Congressman Merrill Cook, who supports HB224. "It’s the idea that you almost have to be in violation of a law to take advantage of a benefit that the state of Utah is offering."
But since immigrating to the United States when he was eight years old, Jose Rodriguez, who attends the University of Utah, says America has "been a world of opportunity."
"I hope that you think of this as an education issue," he advised lawmakers Friday.
Secondary public schools must educate illegal immigrants, which from kindergarten to 12th grade could cost $65,000 per child.
"Maybe it’s OK to work in the construction trade, mow lawns, clean hotel rooms, work in restaurants we haven’t done anything about all those folks," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, a Salt Lake City Democrat who voted against HB224. "But these students who are aspiring to professional jobs, some are saying, no, we don’t want them to do that and that really bothers me."
With the Office of the Utah Attorney General against HB224, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. has threatened to veto the bill if it passes the Legislature.
"Let’s deal with it in a compassionate way," said Democratic Rep. Christine Johnson, who represents parts of the Snyderville Basin.
She says she is against HB224.
"Their families brought them here for a better life," Johnson said. "If I have an opportunity to speak against [the bill] on the House floor, I will. I think it lacks compassion and doesn’t solve the problem at large."
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