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Tuition bill veto may face override challenge

Page 2 of 2 -- Indeed, in Massachusetts, the difference in tuition for in-state and out-of-state residents can be thousands of dollars. For example, an in-state, full-time student attending a state college such as Worcester State or Framingham State this fall would pay $970 in tuition, while out-of-state residents would pay $7,050.

State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios, a Cambridge Democrat who supported the measure, said he was surprised the governor vetoed the measure, particularly after similar legislation had already passed in a number of other states, including California, Illinois, New York, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Texas.

''It passed in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas," Barrios said. ''We're not talking about bastions of liberalism here. This is a not a partisan issue. If these states didn't see it as investing in children's futures, they saw it as a good economic investment. It just makes sense that you would want to educate your future work force."

But opponents of the measure lauded Romney's decision to veto the bill, saying that giving undocumented immigrants access to in-state tuition rewarded law-breakers and could hurt legal immigrants and low-income residents.

''The proponents like to put a human face on this," said James Staudenraus, eastern field director of Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington-based group that pushes for tougher immigration law enforcement. ''They take an illegal alien student, top in the class, high-achieving, who would not go to college if we didn't provide this break to them. But there is another human face to this, and it's the kids who have worked hard, obeyed the rules, and who also deserve their chance at college. Seats are limited."

Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, which estimates that the bill would affect 400 eligible Massachusetts high school seniors each year, charged the governor with turning his back on the immigrant community. But, he said, after speaking with roughly a dozen legislators whom he said have expressed support for a veto override, he has become more optimistic that the override will succeed.

''It has a little more momentum and buzz than we realized because legislators are realizing this is a national issue," Noorani said.

Staudenraus, citing a Federation for American Immigration Reform study, estimated that Massachusetts could lose millions if undocumented students were allowed to pay the lower rate.

Supporters of the measure counter that Massachusetts actually stands to gain from the legislation, because it would receive tuition from students who would otherwise not attend college. The Massachusetts Board of Education and state legislators pushing the bill estimate that the state could take in an additional $2 million a year.

''It's either this in-state tuition rate, or no college," said state Representative Marie P. St. Fleur, House chairwoman of the Joint Education Committee and a sponsor of the bill.

Some educators say not passing the bill is denying the American dream for thousands of students. And, they say, considering all the pressure placed on children to excel in school, it is only fair to give them an opportunity to continue their education.

''We tell them all these positive things," said Genoveffa Grieci, who heads the English as a second language and bilingual department at Framingham High School. ''And then they graduate from high school. And then what? They go to work at McDonalds? They go to clean houses? Why should they work hard? They feel there is no future."

Jadya, a 19-year-old undocumented student living in Framingham, dreams of being a surgeon in an emergency room. But Jadya, who agreed to be interviewed on the condition that only her first name be used, said that if the bill is not passed within the next year when she is a senior, she will have to return to Brazil for college. If that happens, she said she is not sure she will be able to fulfill her dreams.

''I wouldn't be able to achieve my higher expectations in Brazil," she said. ''I can graduate in Brazil, but if you have a degree from a Boston university, that is really something. I could get a better job."

Franco Ordoez can be reached at forodonez@globe.com. Eun Lee Koh can be reached at ekoh@globe.com. 

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