TOPEKA — Secretary of State Kris Kobach told a House committee that letting illegal immigrants attend Kansas colleges on in-state tuition does them a disservice because they can't legally stay and work after they graduate — and staying too long pushes them back 10 years from legal residency.
In the audience at the hearing Tuesday were two young women who did what Kobach said they couldn't do. Both graduated from state universities and became legal, working residents of the United States and Kansas.
The hearing before the Federal and State Affairs Committee was on House Bill 2006. It would repeal a 2004 law that allows illegal immigrants to qualify for resident tuition to attend state universities, community colleges and trade schools if they have attended high school in Kansas for three years and earned a diploma or GED.
Tuesday's portion of the hearing was for proponents of repeal to make their case. Today, opponents will get their chance to argue against the change.
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The hearing featured testimony from several witnesses, including Rep. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who is sponsoring the bill, and former Rep. Lynne Ohara of Uniontown.
Although he was speaking as a private citizen and not in his capacity as secretary of state, Kobach, a longtime activist against illegal immigration, was the top witness for the proponents. He has won national attention as co-author of Arizona's immigration law, the nation's strictest.
He told the committee that the major reason to repeal the tuition law is that "current Kansas law is in violation of federal law."
Kobach said federal law bans tuition subsidies for illegal immigrants that aren't available to citizens and legal residents.
He said in-state tuition is a subsidy and that to legally provide it to people who are in Kansas in violation of immigration law, "You've got to kill the golden goose. You have to have every U.S. citizen eligible for in-state tuition."
Kobach conceded that none of the nine similar laws in other states has been invalidated by courts. In several states, including Kansas, federal courts have dismissed challenges from citizen students, ruling they don't have legal standing to sue to overturn the laws.
He said a California appeals court ruled against in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in a suit brought under state law, but it was reversed by the state Supreme Court.
Kobach served as a lawyer for the plaintiffs in both the Kansas and California cases.
He said several more suits are under way, and he believes a state challenge will eventually succeed.
Kobach also testified that in-state tuition "harms its intended beneficiaries," by giving illegal-immigrant students an incentive to stay in the United States illegally.
He said that if they are unlawfully in the country for 12 months past the age of 18, which they'd need to be to earn a degree, they would be barred from attaining legal status for 10 years.
And when they graduate, Kobach said, they'd be unable to prove legal residency and could get only menial jobs.
"There is no avenue for someone to become legal" if they are illegally in the United States, he said.
But in the audience were two young women from the Kansas City area who both came to the country illegally, graduated from state universities and have become legal residents.
Alaide Vilchis and Andrea Pardo-Spalding, both 24, came to the United States as 14-year-olds. Vilchis went on to graduate from the University of Kansas and Pardo-Spalding from Kansas State.
They both met and married U.S. citizens while attending college and are now legal residents on a path to citizenship, they said.
Vilchis works as a medical assistant and is applying for graduate school. Pardo-Spalding runs a home-based design business.
Vilchis said she got a tax ID number from the Internal Revenue Service and has always paid taxes on her earnings, even though she was ineligible for a refund.
Of Kobach's assertion that there's no path for illegal immigrants to become legal, she said, "That's absolutely not true.... How do you explain me?"
Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita, questioned another Kobach assertion, that in-state tuition is a state subsidy and a disadvantage to out-of-state students.
She pointed out that illegal immigrants have to pay the full cost of their tuition and are ineligible for any financial aid.
"I have some problems with you saying we're subsidizing these students," she told Kobach. "Whatever the tuition is, they're paying it."
Out-of-state students are charged at a higher rate but can have it partly or fully offset by grants, scholarships and interstate compacts between universities, she said.