Colorado’s Legislature advances illegal in-state tuition bill

Colorado's new law to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens resident in Colorado is Illegal and immoral. Photo: KWST News

COLORADO SPRINGS, January 27, 2013 ― There is a bill currently working its way through the Democrat-controlled legislature in Colorado designed to give illegal aliens who have graduated high school or its equivalent in-state tuition at taxpayer-supported colleges and universities.

The proponents of the bill claim is it a matter of justice. It is not.

This bill creates a special class of people which might accurately be described as “resident illegal aliens,” bizarre as that might sound. Yet it is true: The bill specifically excludes “non-immigrant aliens,” a term which can only mean aliens who are in the state legally. The bill also excludes legal citizens who are not legal residents of the state. The effect of the bill is to advance resident illegal aliens ahead of citizens.

How can this be lawful or just? In fact, it is not legal.

Hans von Spakovsky and Charles Stimson point out in an article written in 2011, that providing in-state tuition for illegal aliens is a clear violation of federal law. They reference the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act that President Bill Clinton signed into law, which prohibits state colleges and universities from providing in-state tuition to illegal aliens “on the basis of residence within the State,” unless the same in-state rates are offered to all citizens of the United States.

This Colorado bill does not offer those same rates to all citizens of the United States and even excludes legal aliens. Suppose you were an Iowa kid, in this country legally. You would pay out-of-state tuition. Suppose a military family moved here legally but claimed residence of their home state and their child wanted to attend a Colorado college – again, out-of-state tuition applies.

The authors of Colorado bill seem to be well aware of the illegality of its provisions because they include a small nod toward legality: The prospective student is required to sign an affidavit to that effect that he or she will pursue citizenship.

The information the person gives with respect to citizenship is treated as a confidential student record according to the bill, making it impossible to follow up on the affidavit. There is no incentive to actually follow through: The benefit is already realized and there is no penalty if the person does not follow up. The law expects someone who has already broken the law by living in Colorado illegally to follow through with a promise to make his or her residency status legal. If that’s not a low enough bar, the requirement is not to actually obtain citizenship, but merely to take steps in the direction of citizenship. What those steps might be are not defined.

There’s more:

“These students shall not be counted as resident students for any other purpose, but are eligible for the college opportunity fund stipend pursuant to the provisions of that program, and may be eligible for institutional or other financial aid.”

So not only does this bill give illegals a special tuition benefit, it also makes them eligible for financial aid. Aid monies are finite: Aid given to an illegal is not available for a legal resident.

Clearly this is not legal. Is it just?

Henry Hazlitt, in Economics in One Lesson, explains why most economic policies fail. The laws are designed to focus on a specific group or solve a specific problem and they ignore the impacts to other groups. In this case, what are those impacts?

Nothing in current law prevents these kids from going to college. Presumably they could pay the out-of-state tuition rate with no questions asked about their citizenship. This isn’t about making them eligible for an educational opportunity they would otherwise not have had; this is about giving them a cheaper rate and making them eligible for subsidies to boot.

What about the impact on the legal resident of Colorado who can’t afford tuition? These illegals could take their spot in the subsidy program, paid for by taxpayers. It rewards law-breakers over poor citizens.

Colorado doesn’t define citizenship as a requirement for in-state tuition – only residence. So if these illegals have actually lived in Colorado long enough to be eligible for in-state tuition, why is this bill even required? The only thing anyone should have to provide is proof of residence, not proof of citizenship. The purpose of the bill is transparent: By keeping the proof of citizenship secret, someone who is a resident but here illegally cannot be “found out.”

Some argue that illegals pay taxes and should therefore have in-state tuition. This is another red herring. The tuition requirement is only related to residence, not paying taxes. The bill itself says nothing about whether the individuals had paid taxes, only that they’ve lived in Colorado and graduated high school.

About half of citizens don’t pay taxes. Are they thereby prevented from getting in state tuition rates? Tax returns are a way of proving residence, but they are not the only way.

The intent to advance the interests of one group – resident illegal aliens – is done at the expense of legal residents of both Colorado and the United States as a whole. This law does great violence to the rule of law.

If there were no distinction between in-state and out-of-state tuition, the question would be moot. Likewise, if subsidizing in state tuition rates were not done with taxpayer money, the question would also be moot, although there would still be the federal law to consider. In both of these situations, the tuition law would not be needed.

If the proponents of the bill wanted equity and justice, they could work to level the playing field for all prospective students. It is clear, however, by the narrow carve-out of a class of people to benefit from this bill that equal treatment under the law is the last thing on their minds.

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Al Maurer

Al Maurer is a political scientist and founder of The Voice of Liberty. He writes on topics of limited government and individual rights.

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