PCP: Help legal students first
The United States of America, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, contained about 11.6 to 12 million illegal immigrants in 2006. According to the Massachusetts New Americans Agenda, 16.4 percent of Massachusetts income-tax filers were immigrants of any status in 2009, and 912,310 people out of the entire population of Massachusetts are immigrants (of any status) according to the same report. The Internal Revenue Service, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s “The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments,” estimates that about 6 million illegal immigrants pay state, local and federal income taxes each year – about half. A new legal proposal in the Massachusetts state legislature would grant in-state tuition here at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to the non-citizen children of illegal immigrants who live in Massachusetts – note that children of illegal immigrants with US citizenship already count as having Massachusetts residency.
I have to make a convincing argument against this proposal. For once, I get to write a counterpoint with which I agree. After all, I’m an out-of-state student and in my opinion illegal immigrants have no better claim to Massachusetts citizenship or social aid than I have.
Why not extend in-state tuition to the half of illegal immigrants who pay their taxes? Relatively simple: it creates an incentive for illegal immigrants to migrate into Massachusetts from other states, thus further burdening the state budget and the University budget when they already suffer the strain of the recession.
In addition, remember an old Bedouin proverb: “I against my brother, I and my brother against my cousin, I and my brother and my cousin against neighbors, and all of us against the foreigner.” Morally, one ought to help those who are close and kin to oneself before those far away and unrelated. This does not mean that one should refrain from helping, but it does mean that while the majority of UMass out-of-state students pay $30,000 a year to attend the state ought to focus on lowering tuition for everyone or at the very least on helping fellow Americans, citizens and legal residents, before passing a feel-good band-aid law that helps the tiny proportion of UMass students and prospective students who are non-citizen children of illegal immigrants. That may play nicely with the “we are the world” crowd during flush economic times, but right now all things monetary have gone down the tubes.
Massachusetts ought to help its many student-cousins from New Jersey and New York – who remain ineligible for the tuition subsidy given to those from Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut and Rhode Island – before it helps complete foreigners who don’t even have the legal clearance to live in the United States that our honest international students have.
This all may sound cruel or callous, but look at what has happened with the American health care system. Decades ago the public was convinced to take pity on the old and the poor by passing Medicare and Medicaid. Having done so, they decided that they had mostly solved the health care problem.
In my opinion, extending in-state tuition to illegal immigrants out of the state budget, instead of passing true reforms that would lower tuition for everyone, will result in much the same situation. As noted by the College Board, “Published tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities rose at an average annual rate of 4.9 percent per year beyond general inflation from 1999-2000 to 2009-10, more rapidly than the 3.0 percent and 4.0 percent of the previous two decades.”
Our tuition and fees at UMass have risen and are rising much too fast, and we can’t afford to implement social aid policies that will cost the state and University scarce dollars while holding us back from the complete reform we really need to liberate today’s college and university students from semi-permanent indebtedness and dependence on financial aid.
Neither can Massachusetts solve the problems of illegal immigration with a feel good law. If America as a whole really wants to fully handle this issue, we first ought to police our borders better and re-open an immigration process more like Ellis Island than like the Whitmore Administration building. Ending American policies that hinder development in other nations, such as the “War on Drugs,” would certainly help, and so would cracking down on the employers of illegal immigrants to stop the exploitation of immigrant labor.
When we really want to lower the cost of coming to UMass, we need to end the student loan industry (it’s a moral hazard), nationalize state universities (given how much money flows from the federal government to UMass already, not much of a jump) and finally tear down the wall between UMass’s renovation budget and UMass’s general expenses budget. Even to start with a moderate reform, there is no reason that the federal government should talk about taking on student loans itself while not shifting some money from imperialistic war spending to subsidize in-state tuition for all American students, no matter the state from which we hail.
Eli Gottlieb is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.