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Illegal immigrant in-state tuition law faces challenge again in Topeka

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Wednesday, March 20, 2013, at 11:16 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, at 7:23 p.m.

— Ever since Kansas approved in-state college tuition rates for illegal immigrants who have attended Kansas high schools in 2004, efforts have emerged virtually every year seeking to repeal the law.

An attempt surfaced again Wednesday.

“How can we be just … giving benefits to people who break our laws?” said Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, testifying before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee.

Kansas law allows people who have lived in Kansas at least three years and have a degree from a Kansas high school to attend state colleges at in-state rates, as long as they have applied for legal immigration status or sign an affidavit promising to do so once they’re eligible.

In fall of 2012, 630 students took advantage of it, according to state documents. Of those, 498 attended community colleges, 117 were at universities and 15 went to technical colleges.

It’s not clear how many students would pay out-of-state tuition if the law were repealed.

But if they all attended at non-resident rates, it would mean $10,295 more per student in tuition for universities, $1,262 for community colleges, and $99 at technical colleges.

That’s a total of $1.8 million. If none of the students enrolled, state schools would lose $3.9 million, according to the state.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has fought the law since he was a 3rd Congressional District candidate in 2004, said Kansas law violates federal laws and that it encourages illegal immigrants to continue to defy the law.

“Stop using taxpayer money to subsidize an illegal workforce,” he said.

Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, a Republican from Grandview Plaza, said that some illegal immigrants join gangs, and he suggested that illegal immigrants use their children as “pawns” when they come to the United States.

“We’re either a nation of laws, or we just say the heck with it,” he said.

Rothlisberg said illegal immigrants bypass the proper immigration process, and he said he’s even annoyed by customer service phone lines that offer to provide assistance in Spanish.

“We’re catering to people who come in and break the law,” Rothlisberg said. “Pretty soon, why even have any laws, why even have any borders?”

Phones, ATMs and other services in Europe, Mexico and other places commonly offer assistance in English.

Advocates of the existing law out-numbered those pushing to repeal it, and some gave emotional pleas to keep the law on the books.

Georgina Hernandez, a master’s in public administration student at Wichita State University who came to the United States at age 10, said she understands how some people might see it as unfair.

But she said her parents have been here paying sales and use taxes for 16 years and that after her family’s contributions and hard work she deserves in-state tuition.

She said that too many young immigrants are settling for jobs at meat packing plants and farms, and she said reasonable tuition rates provide some hope for ambitious immigrants.

“Taking this hope away from us would just kill our dreams,” she said.

Elias Garcia, state director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said national immigration reform is likely to happen soon, and he said the state shouldn’t again try to repeal the law with reform en route.

“It’s time to move on,” he said.

It’s unclear if the Republican-dominated House Federal and State Affairs Committee will vote on House Bill 2192. Efforts in recent years have failed to gain traction.

At least 13 states have laws similar to Kansas, including Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas.

Rep. Ponka-We Victors, D-Wichita, questioned why the state would try to repeal the law when Congress is working on nationwide reform, and she provide another perspective.

“When you mention illegal immigrants, I think of all of you,” said Victors, who is from the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma and has a Hispanic grandpa.

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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