No tuition law repeal

Another legislative session means another mean-spirited attempt to repeal the 2004 Kansas law allowing certain children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities, community colleges and technical colleges. This time the effort has a stronger and more conservative House GOP majority to push it forward, and perhaps a supportive governor as well. But the Legislature should leave the law and its beneficiaries alone.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee advanced the repeal last week, with the majority apparently buying testimony that the law hurts students, encourages illegal immigration and violates federal law.

Such arguments are flawed.

The law hurts no one, because it isn’t a giveaway — the students still have to pay tuition, at rates that keep rising every year. To be eligible, students have attended a Kansas high school for at least three years and earned a diploma or equivalency — unlike the out-of-staters and foreigners usually cited as the law’s primary victims.

Eligible students also have to say they intend to become citizens. And though Secretary of State Kris Kobach testified to the committee that such students can’t legally stay and work in Kansas, they can and do. Two 24-year-old women testified to lawmakers about having come to the United States as 14-year-olds, attended and graduated from Kansas Board of Regents universities, and met and married U.S. citizens, putting them on the path to citizenship. One works as a medical assistant; the other owns a home-based design business.

As for whether the law encourages illegal immigration: How much motivation is there in knowing one day you’ll have the chance to pay full in-state tuition for your children, with no access to financial aid?

As for the argument by Kobach and others that the state law violates federal law: Federal immigration law and enforcement are a disaster, thanks to a succession of Congresses and presidents. With the U.S. Supreme Court having said that public schools must educate the children of undocumented immigrants, Kansas’ law simply offered a more affordable way for such kids to follow their graduating classmates into the state’s higher education system. Besides, the 10 such state laws so far have stood up to court challenges by Kobach and others.

The pragmatic law acknowledges that this population is here in Kansas and its K-12 schools, and handles students after that in a way that serves the state’s work force and economy. As a U.S. senator, Brownback once favored and even co-sponsored the similar federal-level DREAM Act (though his support waned, and he hasn’t stated a position on the proposed state repeal).

Surely state lawmakers have better things to do than pick on kids who are in Kansas through no fault of their own and just want to continue their education.