There was never much doubt that legislators this session would mount another effort to repeal the state’s immigrant tuition law. Thus it was no surprise when a bill to that effect was introduced last week in the House Federal and State Affairs Committee
We hope it fails, as have all previous attempts. Yet, given the conservative dominance of the Kansas Legislature, the law is sure to face its toughest test in the weeks and months to come.
The law, passed in 2004, allows certain children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition to attend public institutions of higher education in Kansas. To qualify, those students must have graduated from a Kansas high school or earned a GED, have lived in Kansas for at least three years and promise to become U.S. citizens.
According to the Kansas Board of Regents, which unanimously supported the initial law and has consistently opposed its repeal, the law benefits about 600 students. Some of them attend the state universities, others attend community colleges and yet others are in technical colleges.
As has been the case in the past, opponents can be expected to contend that the law constitutes a reward for illegal immigrants living in Kansas. It does no such thing. The children it benefits have broken no laws, and in almost every instance were brought here when they were very young by parents who sought a better life. Most of those parents, while living here illegally, are nevertheless living productive lives, working and paying taxes.
A previous attempt to have the law ruled unconstitutional contended, among other things, that allowing the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition put out-of-state students at a disadvantage. That failed, as it should have, because the tuition that the children of illegal immigrants pay has no impact on out-of-state applicants — either their chances of gaining admission to Kansas institutions or their tuition levels.
It is ironic, given the emphasis that conservatives place on economic development incentives, that so many would oppose opportunities for these young people. After all, these students have not only pledged to become U.S. citizens, but because of the affordable education this law permits them to pursue, they’ll be likely to prosper themselves and contribute to the Kansas economy in many ways and for many years to come.
The immigration law doesn’t weaken Kansas; it strengthens our state. Repealing it would be a setback not just for the children of illegal immigrants but for the state itself.