AMERICA IS a nation of immigrants, but equally so, America is also a nation of laws.
I support legal immigration. Every year we open our doors to 35,000 legal noncitizens. In Massachusetts, our total foreign-born population is close to 1 million people. Our nation was built by men and women seeking a better life. In America, if you play by the rules, if you work hard, you are limited only by your dreams. But, unfortunately, not everyone comes here legally. There are some foreigners who arrive on our shores without going through the normal channels. As much as we may sympathize with their desire to be here, they are violating federal law.
A bill currently being considered by the Legislature would provide in-state tuition at our public colleges and university to individuals who are in the United States illegally. That is wrong. Because a family breaks the law, that should not entitle them to a taxpayer subsidy. Enactment of this legislation would encourage more illegal immigration and send the wrong message to those immigrants who played by the rules. Governor Romney vetoed a similar provision last June, and he is prepared to do so again.
For the University of Massachusetts, the difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition is about $9,000. If, as some claim, there are 400 illegal immigrants who would attend UMass if this bill became law, the cost to the taxpayers would be $14.4 million over four years. This is money that would be better spent helping our legal immigrant community acquire the English skills they need to be productive members of our workforce. The waiting list is long for people trying to get into English as a second language classes. Clearing that waiting list has been a priority of the Romney-Healey administration.
There are other financial exposures. Kansas, which extended in-state tuition to illegal aliens, is being sued in federal court by out-of-state residents seeking to pay in-state tuition rates. The plaintiffs argue that any state benefit made available to illegal immigrants must be offered to legal residents of the other 49 states. Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline rightly said the granting of benefits to illegal immigrants ''rewards illegal activity" and recused himself so he wouldn't have to defend the policy in court. If this same bill were to become law over Governor Romney's veto, we can expect similar litigation here in Massachusetts. The result could be either an end to in-state tuition for all Massachusetts residents or a dramatic increase in the cost of public higher education for the taxpayers.
This bill does not fix a problem; it compounds an existing one. It makes no sense for Massachusetts taxpayers to bear the cost of a college education for an illegal immigrant when that same immigrant cannot legally work in the United States and contribute to our economy after graduation.
America continues to be a beacon of freedom and opportunity, welcoming people from around the world. We are all the sons and daughters of immigrants who came here to realize the American dream, but we must insist that immigrants follow the law and immigrate legally. Similarly, elected officials must be reminded, too, that we all took an oath to protect and uphold the Constitution and the law of the land. To do less would be a violation of that oath.
Kerry Healey is lieutenant governor of Massachusetts.