On Nov. 19, Governor Deval Patrick confirmed that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts would offer in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants qualified for amnesty under new Obama administration policy. The President’s policy allows any persons that, “arrived in the United States before turning 16, has lived here for at least five years, is under the age of 31, has no serious criminal record, and either is in school, has a high school diploma or equivalent, or has been honorably discharged from the armed services,” to qualify for U.S. citizenship.
The stance of the President and Democratic Party is that any young person brought to this country against their will by their parents and knowing no other country as home, shall have the opportunity to become a citizen of the United States.
Under a 2008 Massachusetts law, federal work permits can serve as evidence of state residency, and thus qualify students for in-state tuition. If a person receives formal recognition from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, they are automatically eligible for a work permit. The Governor has simply confirmed that the 2008 law applies to newly eligible young Americans.
While this action seems procedural, controversy exists around whether these young Americans will reduce the acceptance of natural-born citizens into state universities and colleges. However, this argument rests on the idea that some people are, essentially, not American.
First, most of these children have limited memory of life outside of the United States. Many of them went to American public schools, learned English, and have led fulfilling and productive lives. If deported, these students would return to a country where they are outsiders instead of contributing to the American culture and economy.
Second, the executive order outlining amnesty specifically prohibits non-productive persons to remain in the United States. The concern of those opposed to amnesty is that it allows a criminal or unproductive element of society to reap the benefits of American taxpayers without contributing to the common cause. A close reading of the policy should quell those fears because it specifically prohibits any persons with a “criminal record” and only allows those who are “in school, [have] a high school diploma… or has been honorably discharged from the armed services” to remain in the country.
Soldiers that have given time, service, and even blood for the United States will not be forced to leave the country that they swore to protect. Students that work hard in an attempt to better themselves — and through that the country — are productive members of society who have taken advantage of the opportunity of America; the sum of their future contributions to America are unknowable, but we will lose that hard work if we force them to leave.
Third, this change will have little effect on currently enrolled students, but it will encourage many other students to enroll. The Commonwealth estimates that about 15,000 to 17,000 residents will be affected by the new policy, and, according to Massachusetts Secretary of Education Paul Reville, “Our experience has been that the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition is a prohibitive barrier.” In-state tuition at the University of Massachusetts is $13,230 per year while out-of-state tuition is $26,645 per year.
The benefits we afford to these children allow them to become far more productive than they could have hoped to be in their native countries. By affording these children with the education they need to succeed in a globally interdependent world, we have done a service to humanity. We have the capacity, the wherewithal, and, God-willing, the motivation to help these children succeed. American children have lived for years dreaming of going to college, getting a job and living the American dream — we have the responsibility to afford them that opportunity.
Zac Bears is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com.