Ure: a friend for Latinos on the Hill
Gerry Esplin taught Spanish in Park City when she pushed the Utah Legislature to allow some illegal immigrants who graduate from high school in the state to pay the same college tuition as residents.
"The more educated our population is, the better off we all are," said Esplin, who is better known in Park City by her former married name, Gerry Maak. "I just find it horrifying that people think otherwise."
She fears "more and more conservative" state lawmakers will vote to repeal the four-year-old law during next year’s general session.
"There are plans to initiate legislation to repeal it," Esplin said during a telephone interview Monday. "It is such a short-sighted vision to consider leaving students out of the loop for education."
Kamas Republican Rep. David Ure sponsored a bill in 2002 that allowed some students who attend high school in Utah to pay lower tuition costs reserved for residents of the state.
"[Esplin] introduced me to a couple a very, very bright students who were stalemated," Ure said.
But Ure was defeated in the Republican primary election last month by Vernal resident Kevin Van Tassell in the race to replace Sen. Beverly Evans, R-Altamont, in state Senate District 26.
Ure’s term in the Legislature ends in December.
"It’s a huge loss," said Shelley Weiss, an advocate for Latinos living in Summit and Wasatch counties.
Without a senior lawmaker advocating for illegal immigrants on Capitol Hill, "it could serve a great blow," she added.
Backroom political maneuvering reportedly allowed Ure to block an attempt last year by Rep. Glenn Donnelson, R-North Ogden, to prevent undocumented people from receiving resident tuition rates.
"There is really no need for this bill," said Alex Segura, director of the Utah Minuteman Project. "Even if they do take advantage of that in-state tuition they’re still ineligible to work."
"They’re going to have to commit identity theft to get a job."
Segura opposes illegal immigration and Monday praised Ure’s defeat in the primary.
"I’m happy that [Ure] is gone," Segura said. "Most people never knew what he was up to."
Ure estimates that about 160 undocumented students have enrolled in the program that allows them to attend state colleges and universities for roughly a fourth the cost of students from out of state.
"Those kids who have spent three years in our public schools and have graduated with a high enough standard to be able to go to college, we’re absolutely not only foolish, but we’re stupid, not to provide a way for them to go," Ure said. "You have to ask the question, is the world a better place by these kids getting an education — even if they have to return home?"
Despite growing opposition in the Legislature to the law, Ure says he is counting on Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to veto any bill that would repeal the resident tuition rates for illegal immigrants.
"If the governor holds to his word, it won’t be repealed," Ure said, adding that last year Huntsman threatened to veto Donnelson’s bill had it passed. "But his feet are going to be to the fire."
Segura says House members will attempt next year to repeal the law.
"We’re going to be looking a lot better as far as legislators on our side next session," Segura said, expecting Donnelson to run a similar bill in 2007.
A spokesman for Huntsman Tuesday insisted it was too soon to comment on whether the governor would veto any bills passed by lawmakers that call for repealing the law.
"The governor has made his position clear in the past that he would not have supported (Donnelson’s) bill that would have done that, and we worked closely with Representative Ure in stopping that legislation," Huntsman spokesman Mike Mower said. "We appreciate the leadership that [Ure] brought to that issue."
Three candidates are vying to replace Ure
With Ure opting last spring not to seek another term in the House of Representatives, a Republican, Democrat and Libertarian have signed up to replace the former majority whip in House District 53.
Former Utah Speaker of the House Mel Brown, a Coalville Republican, wasn’t sure Tuesday how he would vote on a bill to repeal the law that provides illegal immigrants tuition costs reserved for state residents.
State statutes should mimic federal immigration laws, said Brown, who is vying to replace Ure.
"We need to develop a consistent program, including state laws, that send a clear and definite message of how these issues are going to be solved," he added.
But Jeremy Ranch Libertarian Gary Shumway says people living in the U.S. illegally should not receive privileges not enjoyed by some American students.
"I still think the bottom line is, they’re illegal," said Shumway, who is running to replace Ure.
Meanwhile, the Democrat in the race for House District 53, Coalville resident Laura Bonham, insists she would oppose attempts to repeal the law.
"These kids were minors when they were brought into this country and most of them were very, very young children," Bonham said. "I would gladly pick up where Dave Ure left off because it’s the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do."
Though she concedes a freshman Democrat on the Hill wouldn’t have the necessary clout Ure has used to protect the law.
"I certainly hope that there is another brave Republican like Dave Ure out there who would be willing to sponsor it," Bonham said.
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Coalville officials are holding a public hearing on Monday to discuss key governing documents for the Wohali development. The vote, if one occurs, will be a culmination of a yearslong approval process.