N.Y. Legislature Passes Bill to Provide Illegal Immigrants In-State Tuition Rates
The New York State Legislature has passed legislation that would allow certain immigrants living in the United States illegally to pay in-state tuition rates at the City University of New York and the State University of New York. The bill, which the governor had requested and is expected to sign, would reverse policies at both institutions.
Members of the State Assembly approved the legislation on Tuesday by a vote of 78 to 69. The State Senate had passed an identical bill on Thursday by a vote of 40 to 21.
Under the legislation, immigrants who are in the United States illegally would have to have attended a New York high school for at least two years, graduated, and applied to attend a state university or college within five years of receiving a diploma to be eligible to pay in-state tuition rates. Illegal immigrants also would be able to pay the resident rates if they attended a New
York program for a general-equivalency diploma, received the diploma in New York, and applied to a New York college or university within five years of receiving the diploma.
Those eligible for the resident rates would be required to sign an affidavit pledging to apply for a legal immigration status as soon as they were eligible.
New York Gov. George E. Pataki, a Republican who is running for re-election this fall, announced in April that he supported this kind of legislation to "reinforce New York's proud legacy as a bastion of hope and opportunity by providing access to a high-quality, affordable higher education for hard-working immigrants."
CUNY administrators, faculty members, and students also have been advocating legislation to allow undocumented immigrants to pay resident tuition rates, and they praised the bill's passage. "This is a great victory for thousands of hard-working immigrants who look to institutions like CUNY to realize their dreams," said Jay Hershenson, CUNY's vice chancellor for university relations.
Last November, CUNY changed its longstanding tuition policy -- under which many illegal immigrants paid the in-state rates -- after administrators decided that the system had to charge them higher, nonresident rates to comply with a 1996 federal immigration law. A provision of the federal law states that immigrants who are not legally in the United States cannot be eligible, based on their living in a state, for any postsecondary-education benefit unavailable to all U.S. citizens. Since SUNY and CUNY, like most public-college systems, charge higher rates for out-of-state students, CUNY officials said that the in-state rate was a benefit covered by the law.
Matthew Goldstein, CUNY's chancellor, agreed that the university had to change the policy, but made it clear that he supported a change in state law that would allow institution officials to go back to charging immigrants the resident tuition rates.
The bill that the State Legislature endorsed would allow CUNY to retroactively charge resident tuition rates to immigrant students who attended the university during the 2001-2 academic year. CUNY officials had allowed those students to defer payment on the portion of their tuition bill that reflected the nonresident rate while the legislation was pending before state lawmakers.
At CUNY's senior colleges, New York residents pay $3,200 per year, compared with $6,800 per year for students from outside the state.
At SUNY's senior colleges, residents pay $3,400 per year, versus $8,300 per year for nonresidents. Some SUNY campuses once allowed some undocumented immigrants to qualify for resident tuition rates, but the system's regents changed the institution's policy in June 1998 in response to the federal immigration law. The policy now prevents immigrants living in the state illegally from paying in-state rates.
Elsewhere, California and Texas enacted laws last year that are similar to New York's and allow some illegal immigrants to pay resident tuition rates at public colleges. In March, Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt, a Republican, signed a bill that also would allow some immigrants living in the United States illegally to pay resident tuition rates at Utah's public colleges if the federal government made it clear that states had the authority to make such decisions. Many state and college officials have argued that California, New York, Texas, and Utah wrote their legislation in ways that allow them to legally sidestep the 1996 federal law, but some national groups that support limiting immigration and others have said that the states' actions violate the federal statute.
Last week, members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed a bill that would specifically allow states to determine if they want to make illegal immigrants living within their borders eligible for resident tuition rates. The bill, introduced by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, a Utah Republican, also would allow certain illegal immigrants to apply for status as permanent legal residents.
To be eligible for such status, the students would have to be between the ages of 12 and 21 and have been in the United States for at least five years when the bill was enacted, receive a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma, and be of "good moral character."
The Senate committee passed the legislation, S 1291, by a voice vote. To be enacted, the bill still would have to pass the full Senate as well as the House of Representatives. House members have not acted on any similar bill, which would likely face more opposition in that chamber.
Officials at the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which advocates curtailing immigration, spoke out against the Senate legislation and the New York bill. They argue that both measures would unfairly provide special benefits, at the expense of American taxpayers, to immigrants who are breaking the law and would make it more difficult for the federal government to crack down on illegal immigration.
"With the cost of a college education skyrocketing, slots at state-subsidized universities are becoming the only hope of a higher education for many American families," Dan Stein, executive director of the federation, said in a prepared statement. The
Senate bill, he added, "will give illegal aliens the same chance at these seats as citizens who play by the rules."