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Cheap tuition for illegal immigrants at stake

Patrick Parkinson Of the Record staff

A Kamas lawmaker received applause Thursday night from a Park City crowd of roughly 75 people — mostly white — when he vowed to oppose a colleague’s attempts to prohibit illegal immigrants from receiving resident tuition rates in Utah.

But state Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden is relentless in his push to repeal a law sponsored in 2002 by Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas that allowed students who attend at least three years of high school in Utah and graduate, to receive cheaper residential tuition rates at state colleges and universities.

With a 9-5 vote, a House standing committee Thursday forwarded Donnelson’s House Bill 7 to the floor with a positive recommendation. But Ure expects behind-the-scenes legislative wrangling to kill the bill.

"We can play some games with the bill and keep it off the board for a week & it’s going to be a battle," Ure said about political tactics he may use to stall the "bad bill." "It’s a long way from having passed so far."

Ure lamented missing the House Rules Committee when Donnellson "slipped it out." He expects the full House of Representatives to debate the bill within two weeks.

According to Ure, last year fewer than 200 undocumented students used the law to attend college. "Can you put a dollar value on the importance of [those] students if they graduate from college and then go back and act as mentors in the neighborhoods?" the representative said during a recent interview.

HB 7 smacks of "bigotry and xenophobia," Park City School District Board member Vern Christensen said.

"I think it’s very shortsighted," he said, adding, "the argument that they are breaking the law I think is shallow and spurious."

Ure blames the anti-immigrant group Utahns For Immigration Reform and Enforcement (UFIRE) for persuading Donnelson to attempt to repeal the tuition law.

"The movement that Donnelson’s gotten tied up in are people who are a little shortsighted," Christensen said.

But UFIRE chairman Mike Sizer claims people who are in the United States illegally should not receive privileges not even afforded to some American citizens.

"Utah is in violation of federal law," Sizer said, adding that Congress made it illegal in 1996 to charge citizens more than undocumented immigrants for tuition.

A group of Americans who pay out-of-state tuition costs to attend the University of Utah are considering suing the state because of the law, Sizer said.

"It’s against the law," Donnelson added.

But the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that allowing some illegal immigrants to pay resident tuition costs is legal, Ure countered. The case is currently being appealed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Sizer said.

"We’re not going to allow the best and the brightest to be educated, even though we’re probably going to subsidize them with $2,000 a year like we do every other student in the state of Utah that’s on in-state tuition," Ure said. "It costs us over $35,000 a year to house someone down at the Point of the Mountain."

Rep. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, chair of the education standing committee, reportedly irked some of those in attendance Thursday by not allowing members of the public to testify. State Sen. Beverly Evans, a Republican who represents portions of Summit County, intends to oppose HB 7 if it makes it to the Senate.

"We fought so hard to get that," Evans said.


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