Action on tuition bill set Friday

Article author: 
Peter Wong
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Article date: 
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
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In-state tuition for students without immigration documents is on a fast track in the Oregon House.

After hearing testimony for two hours Wednesday, mostly from supporters, the House Higher Education Committee plans to consider action Friday on House Bill 2787. Approval would advance it to a vote of the full House, which shelved similar bills in 2003 and 2011 after they passed the Senate.

Hugo Nicolas, who testified for similar legislation two years ago while a senior at McNary High School, spoke in favor of the current bill. He is attending Chemeketa Community College and working at two jobs, hoping to transfer to the University of Oregon and then return to Salem.

“I deserve a shot at the American dream,” he told the committee. “Let me enhance my talents. Today we may be undocumented, but tomorrow, we want to lead the way to be the next generation of entrepreneurs that will energize this state.”

Edith Gomez is a sophomore at the University of Oregon, but only because her visa status was changed and she was granted special permission for in-state rates that are a third of out-of-state rates.

“I can’t help but think of others who are not so lucky,” she said.

Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, is the chief Senate sponsor of the current bill and also sponsored Oregon’s first such bill in 2003 at the request of Woodburn High School’s principal.

“It would be a great disservice to our state and our people if we allow the next generation of brilliant minds to go uncultivated simply because we refuse to acknowledge they are as much a part of Oregon as much as we are and our kids are,” he said.

Courtney said that students without immigration documents are simply not attending state universities.

But Gabriela Morrongiello, a sophomore at Oregon State University and chairwoman of its Young Americans for Freedom chapter, argued that lawmakers should not defy a 1996 federal law.

“Should the Oregon Legislature ignore federal law and confer such privileges, it must also give the same benefits to out-of-state students” such as herself, who is from California. “Failure to do so may result in a class-action lawsuit.”

Twelve states, including California and Washington, have such laws.

Cynthia Kendoll of Salem, president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, questioned some provisions of the bill relating to how students prove they are seeking legal status in the United States.

“Wouldn’t it make more sense to wait until the federal immigration issue is resolved before pushing to pass a state law that could easily contradict the federal law?” she asked. “Banking on a federal amnesty to make enforceable the provisions of this bill is reckless and shortsighted.”

Kendoll also complained afterward that aside from her group and three public opponents, most of the testimony was given by the bill’s supporters. Three hundred students, mostly in support, filled overflow rooms and part of the galleria.