Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sides clash in hearing on bill that would repeal in-state tuition for undocumented students

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Two vastly different opinions about undocumented immigrants were displayed Wednesday before a House committee considering a bill that would repeal in-state tuition for some undocumented students.

Rep. Allan Rothlisberg, R-Grandview Plaza, talked about drug cartels filling the prison system and said he was offended when phone messages have a Spanish language option.

"This is an English-speaking country," Rothlisberg said.

Rothlisberg said he didn't support immigrants with children entering the country illegally. "Parents are using their children as pawns in this effort," he said.

But students, religious leaders and educators, including the Lawrence school board, said the current state law that allows certain undocumented students to pay the less expensive in-state college tuition is helping the state and helping those students fulfill their dreams.

"They came here because their parents brought them here," said Fred Logan, vice chairman of the Kansas Board of Regents. "They are innocent. They are great Kansans," Logan said of the students.

Logan said 630 students, most of whom are attending community and technical colleges, benefit from the in-state tuition law.

Currently, students are considered Kansas residents eligible for in-state tuition if they graduated from a Kansas high school or received a GED, have lived in the state for three years and pledge to become citizens.

House Bill 2192 heard by the House Federal and State Affairs Committee would repeal that law.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach urged approval of the bill. "Stop using taxpayer money to subsidize an illegal workforce," he said.

Sen. Carolyn Tyson, R-Parker, said, "How can we be just in giving benefits to those who disrespect our laws?"

But Vanessa Sanburn, president of the Lawrence school board, said the board opposes the repeal of in-state tuition. "We must not sentence our brightest and most dedicated students to years of educational limbo as they wait in an immigration status broken beyond their control," she said.

Georgina Hernandez, a graduate student at Wichita State University, said she came to the United States when she was 10 years old. She said she works as a housekeeper during the day and hotel clerk during the evening. "If you pass this bill, my dreams will die," she said.

Kim Voth, a guidance counselor at Wichita East High School, said since the in-state tuition law has been in effect, she has seen undocumented students graduate college and go into numerous jobs.

One former student, Voth said, is now a teacher and has received her U.S. citizenship. Voth said that woman told her, "My college degree changed my life. I love teaching. I love my students. I tell them you can become anything you want to be."