Kitzhaber to back bill on immigrant tuition

Article author: 
Peter Wong
Article publisher:
Article date: 
Sunday, February 10, 2013
Article category: 
Oregon Issues
Article Body: 

Gov. John Kitzhaber is expected today to put his political weight behind a bill allowing in-state tuition rates to state university students who lack immigration documents.

He is scheduled to be joined by speakers for Associated Oregon Industries, Oregon Business Association, Portland Business Alliance and the Oregon Association of Nurseries — and the three leaders of the House Higher Education Committee, which will take up House Bill 2787 for its first public hearing on Wednesday.

Among its sponsors are Chairman Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, and the vice chairmen, Republican Rep. John Huffman of The Dalles and Democratic Rep. Chris Harker of Beaverton.

Kitzhaber took no public stance on a similar bill two years ago, when it passed the Senate but died without a vote in an equally split House. But when he presented his two-year budget on Nov. 30, Kitzhaber said he would sign such a bill.

The current bill is similar in that it requires residency in Oregon for three years before high school graduation, graduation from high school in Oregon, and steps toward legal status in the United States. The latter would be in the form of affidavits filed with the state university attesting to applications for legal status or an intent to apply for it as soon as someone is eligible.

It also provides for a direct challenge of the law before the Oregon Supreme Court.

A similar law was upheld by the California Supreme Court in 2010, and the U.S. Supreme Court let it stand in 2011 when the justices declined to hear an appeal by opponents.

Although he is a sponsor of the bill, Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, said legislative leaders have agreed it is up to the House to act first this session. The Senate passed bills in 2003 and 2011, but each died in the House.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states — including Washington and California — have laws allowing in-state tuition rates for undocumented students. Two states have done so through other means.

Four states specifically ban such rates, and two others bar enrollment of any students who cannot prove legal presence in the United States.

The political battle lines in Oregon will be the same as in 2011.

Immigrant-rights groups and student groups will support the bill. A comprehensive federal immigration bill could make action by states unnecessary, but as Causa Oregon’s Erik Sorensen said, “I do not anticipate Congress is going to have anything that soon.”

Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which has been critical of federal immigration policy, will oppose it again. But Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, a spokesman for the group, said opponents will emphasize arguments that the bill would be a money loser for the state because higher out-of-state tuition rates would not apply to those students.

Given that Democrats have majorities in both chambers this session, Ludwick said, “it’s going to be tough for us.”

What’s next

The House Higher Education Committee will conduct a public hearing on House Bill 2787, which grants in-state tuition rates to state university students without immigration documents, at 8 a.m. Wednesday in Hearing Room D in the Capitol. Overflow rooms are likely to be designated.

The committee plans a “work session” Friday, when it could advance the bill to a vote of the full House.
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Selected legislative committee meetings and other events this week. Agendas are subject to change; for updates, call the numbers listed or see the Oregon Legislature’s website at


House Higher Education: 8 a.m., Hearing Room D. Public hearing on House Bill 2787, allowing in-state tuition rates for university students without immigration documents. (503) 986-1664.