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April 03. 2012 7:05PM

Opponents speak against bill denying in-state tutition rate for illegal immigrants

CONCORD — At a Senate hearing Tuesday, state university officials and immigrant advocates pushed back against a bill that seeks to prevent illegal immigrants from getting in-state tuition rates at the state's public colleges and universities.

House Bill 1383, which was passed by the House in February, would require the university system to “establish a procedure for determining that all students receiving the in-state rate of tuition are legal residents of the United States.”

The bill is now being considered by the Senate Education Committee

Ronald Rodgers, the general counsel for the University System of New Hampshire, told the panel that the bill would create a heavy administrative burden for its already strained institutions in response to what was essentially an undocumented problem.

“We don't have any evidence that there is any problem,” he said. “This bill poses a substantial burden for all in-state students and their families.”

However the bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Duarte, R-Candia, said that states are obligated to deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants under the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which prohibits states from providing “a postsecondary education benefit to an alien not lawfully present in the United States.”

Duarte stressed that he is an immigrant who came to the country from Portugal as a child.

“The first thing my father did was give us rules, we will obey the rules America, of this town and we will respect our neighbors,” he said. “He was adamant that we won't take money from anybody, not the town, state or federal government.”

Several states have barred illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition, including Arizona, Colorado and Indiana, while others have extended in-state tuition to undocumented students who meet special requirements, including California and Texas.

State university officials say of the 20,000 students who receive in-state tuition, 85 percent of them also receive financial aid through the federal government, which is responsible for vetting their citizenship.

Rodgers, the system's general counsel, said colleges and universities would have to require documentation of all 20,000 in-state tuition applicants. Officials estimated administrative costs of at least $17,000 in the policy's first year, if enacted, and ongoing costs of around $5,000 a year.

Rodgers noted the university system already has extensive residency requirements for students to show that they're eligible for in-state tuition, which is roughly $12,000 less than what out-of-state students pay.

Eva Castillo-Turgeon, the director of New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, said many students do well in high school with the goal of attending college and they don't know that they're not eligible for financial aid.

“These kids, a lot of them have no clue they're undocumented. A lot of them are awarded scholarships and they can't use them. Kids who do go to college end up working every other semester or taking a year off to have enough money.”

Members of the Senate Education Committee expressed skepticism about the bill.

Sen. Jim Forsythe, R-Strafford, said he was considering filing an amendment that would require students to sign affidavits attesting to their citizenship rather than having the university system take on the role of verifying their status.

“If it's not a widespread problem, I don't think it's worth spending what's estimated in the fiscal note,” he said.

The committee put off action on the bill until all of its members could be present for a vote.

In February House Speaker William O'Brien, R-Mont Vernon, spoke in support of the bill. “It's wrong to be forcing the taxpayers of New Hampshire to subsidize a post-secondary education for those who are breaking the law or are otherwise in our state because of criminal conduct,” he said.


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