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House rejects tuition repeal for immigrants

Patrick Parkinson, Of the Record staff

The bill that would undo a law that five years ago allowed illegal immigrants in Utah to begin attending college for reduced in-tuition appears dead this week after it was rejected by the House of Representatives.

Having tried repeatedly to repeal the law, opponents were one vote short Tuesday when a tie of 37-37 prevented House Bill 224 from advancing to the Senate.

The bill likely would have passed had Provo Republican Rep. Keith Grover who co-sponsored the repeal legislation not been the only lawmaker absent during the vote.

But Republican Rep. Glenn Donnelson, the bill’s sponsor from North Ogden, was undeterred.

Still, his request Wednesday that the House reconsider the bill was rejected with a 36-38 vote, which stopped further debate on the controversial legislation.

By showing up the second day to vote for the repeal, Grover was too late to make a difference for supporters who say illegal immigrants who graduate after attending high school in Utah should be entitled to receive reduced tuition reserved for residents of the state.

"We’ll just come back next year because it looks like support is growing for it. Since last year support for the bill has gone through the roof," said Alex Segura, director of the Utah Minuteman Project, a group against illegal immigration. "It’s a hot button and our time has come."

The law is expected to benefit between 160 and 184 illegal immigrants who are attending college this year.

The two representatives who serve Summit County in the House opposed the repeal.

Five years ago, former state Rep. David Ure, a Kamas Republican who represented Park City, sponsored legislation that gave in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

Ure’s powerful presence on Capitol Hill prevented the House from ever seriously considering a repeal, frustrating opponents who have fought the law.

"It’s never had a debate on the House floor because I never let it," Ure said.

Still, his retirement last year meant the backroom maneuvering might not protect the law Ure sees as pivotal to his political legacy.

But this week a new advocate for immigrant students emerged at the Capitol, Ure said.

Newly elected Rep. Mel Brown, a Coalville Republican who replaced Ure in the House, worked "bloody hard" to defeat HB224, Ure said.

"If [Brown] wouldn’t have been inside working the floor as hard as he did we would have lost it," he said, adding, "we’re lucky to win it and hopefully now, having had two full debates on the House floor, Representative Donnelson will give up the ghost on it and let it lie a peaceful death."

Those who support repealing the law say it encourages illegal immigrants to break federal immigration laws by attending college in Utah without the ability to work legally during school or after graduation.

"We’re selling false dreams of having them work here legally and we need to stop that," Donnelson told lawmakers.

The state violated federal immigration laws by allowing illegal immigrants to receive benefits not provided to U.S. citizens outside Utah, the repeal’s proponents claim.

States cannot provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants without providing it to all Americans, Donnelson claims.

With similar laws being challenged in other states, the current law makes Utah a target for a lawsuit, HB224 supporters say.

"That’s hogwash," counters Ure.

Termed "drive-by legislation" by critics of HB224, the bill could see more debate this year should Donnelson succeed in getting it back onto the floor by suspending House rules, Ure said.

"I think it’s dead this year," he said, adding, "I’ll keep my eye on it."


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