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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

GOP rep plans aliens’ tuition hurdle

CONCORD – University administrators and immigrant advocates say a proposed state law banning in-state tuition for illegal aliens is a solution in search of a problem.

But Rep. Joseph Duarte, R-Candia, said he pursued the bill (HB 1383), after his granddaughter was denied in-state tuition status because her parents were born in Portugal.

‘’If you are not lawfully here, you should pay the full rate,’’ Duarte told the Senate Education Committee.

‘’We aren’t saying that you can’t go; you can but you should pay what any student from any of the other 49 states are paying.’’

Duarte’s granddaughter attended the private St. Michael’s College in Vermont on scholarship, Duarte said.

Ronald Rodgers, general counsel of the University System of New Hampshire, said immigration status is the job of the federal government and this bill would pass on to university officials that ‘’substantial’’ burden.

‘’The institutions of USNH cannot and should not be expected to make up for whatever shortcomings there may be in the federal government’s efforts in this area of federal jurisdiction,’’ Rodgers said.

‘’This bill would impose substantial paperwork burdens on the thousands of in-state resident students and their families even though there is no evidence of a problem to be fixed.’’

Advocates for this bill (HB 1383) point to the Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 that bans states from giving in-state tuition after high school to non-resident aliens unless that state acts affirmatively to make them eligible.

There are 12 states that expressly permit in-state tuition for non-resident immigrants, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The only Northeast state where it’s legal for illegal aliens to get in-state tuition is New York.

Legislative budget experts estimate the bill would cost N.H. taxpayers $17,000 in the first year and about $5,800 every year after for public college executives to review immigration status of in-state applicants.

The cost would be higher, except this review is already done by federal authorities for the 85 percent of in-state students who receive some form of federal financial aid.

What would be left for N.H. college leaders to go through would be about 3,000 applicants a year.

Eva Castillo Turgeon of Manchester is an immigrant rights advocate who adopted a 15-year-old boy from Mexico whose family crossed the U.S. border when he was 3.

‘’I have known the family for many years, but I asked the mother and father to give the child to me. That was a very hard decision for them to make,’’ Castillo Turgeon recalled.

‘’They are American as anybody, but they don’t have a stupid piece of paper that certifies them. Why do we have to put one more hurdle in front of these children who just want to have a better life?’’

Judy Elliott with the New Hampshire Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees said gaining in-state tuition status can save a family $14,000 a year but this new mandate could scare some parents from pursuing it.

‘’We are becoming a society where every place we turn, we have to show papers,’’ Elliott said.

‘’Let’s think about where we are going in this society and consider how often we have to submit ourselves to a document or body inspection.’’

Sen. James Forsythe, R-Strafford, said he’d pursue a middle ground and try to amend the bill to merely attach to every in-state tuition application an affidavit from the parent that their child is a U.S. citizen.

‘’It sounds like it is not a widespread problem, so it doesn’t make sense to place a burdensome requirement on the University System,’’ Forsythe said.

USNH lawyer Rodgers admitted the cost of such an affidavit would be ‘’minimal’’ to higher education.

But Arnie Alpert with the Quaker-based American Friends Services Committee said there should be no attempt to fix this bill.

‘’We see it as being mean-spirited and we see it as being burdensome,’’ Alpert added.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Kevin Landrigan on Twitter (@KLandrigan).