Photo: Immigration News
Long-bottled-up bills that address state policies on whether to offer in-state tuition to undocumented students could become law this year, because of changes in party control of legislative chambers and changes in federal policy.
President Barack Obama plans to push for an overhaul of the country’s immigration laws in Washington, D.C., but states have limited powers to address the issue. The U.S. Supreme Court drew that line even tighter last summer, when it struck down key parts of Arizona’s ambitious effort to curb illegal immigration. But deciding who can get in-state tuition is clearly within the powers of states, and it has re-emerged as a flash point in state capitols.
Tuition is one of several immigration-related topics likely to crop up in state capitols this year. Lawmakers also will consider granting driving privileges to illegal immigrants, requiring employers to use a federal database to verify the legal status of new hires and changing rules for police who arrest undocumented immigrants.
On tuition, Maryland voters in November upheld in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants who grew up in Maryland. At least 12 states offer in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. In other states, the fate of in-state tuition bills is closely tied to the partisan makeup of their legislatures.
A bill to lower tuition rates for illegal immigrants stalled last year in the Republican-controlled House, but advocates hope the Democratic takeover of the chamber will clear the way for passage this year. Adding to the urgency is a dispute brewing over a decision by Metro State University of Denver to offer its courses at cost to undocumented students. The attorney general issued a non-binding opinion saying the policy violates state law, which prohibits public benefits for illegal immigrants, but Metro State rolled out the policy anyway. It registered 96 illegal immigrants as students last semester. This year’s legislation could be heard by a Senate committee as early as this week.