RI weighs in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

By David Klepper
Associated Press / May 26, 2011

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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—Students who immigrated to the U.S. illegally as children could pay in-state tuition at Rhode Island's public colleges and universities under legislation reviewed by state lawmakers Thursday.

To qualify for reduced tuition, students would have to earn a Rhode Island diploma after attending a state high school for at least three years. They would also have to sign an affidavit stating that they are seeking legal residency in the U.S.

It's the seventh year Rep. Grace Diaz, D-Providence, has supported the legislation. She said the state would benefit by encouraging more students to get a college education. Supporters of the bill say giving immigrant students a tuition break would actually raise money for the state because most could not afford out-of-state tuition.

"If we are committed to education this is a great opportunity to prove it," she told a House panel that reviewed the proposal Thursday. Similar legislation was reviewed Thursday by a Senate committee.

Eleven states now grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who are working toward legal status, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Connecticut is expected to join the list this year after lawmakers approved such legislation earlier this week.

Anti-illegal immigration groups oppose the measure, arguing tuition breaks would offer an incentive to immigrants to enter the U.S. illegally. Terry Gorman, director of the group Rhode Islanders for Immigration Law Enforcement, said giving immigrants in-state tuition would be unfair to students now paying out-of-state tuition.

"Your heart goes out to these kids, but we have to enforce the law," he said. "What about the kid from Connecticut or Seekonk, Massachusetts?"

Supporters predict the bill would affect an estimated 130 students. The state has three public institutions of higher education: the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College or the Community College of Rhode Island.

In-state tuition at the University of Rhode Island this year was $9,000. Out-of-state students paid more than $25,000.

Lawmakers have considered the legislation before, but it's never passed the House or Senate. No votes on this year's legislation are scheduled.

A spokesman for Gov. Lincoln Chafee, an independent, said the administration is still reviewing the legislation.