(NECN: Alison King) – A new initiative to make college affordable for some illegal immigrants in Massachusetts is getting very mixed reaction.
This is an issue that has been brewing inside the Massachusetts state house for years.
Should we allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges?
In 2004, the legislature passed a bill that would do just that, but Governor Mitt Romney vetoed it.
A year later, the senate passed a similar bill, but it failed in the house.
When the economy went south, the issue basically disappeared.
But now, working off a new federal program, Governor Deval Patrick has made it happen, without the legislature.
The cost differential for these students is significant.
UMass Amherst, for example, costs almost $27,000 a year for out of staters. For residents, it’s just over $13,000.
“I consider myself American in every single way,” says Filipe Zamborlini who left Brazil for Boston when he was 12 years old.
He's lived as an undocumented immigrant ever since, which means no drivers license, no social security card and no in-state tuition rates at Massachusetts state colleges.
“I probably have 45 credits at UMass Boston, but paying out-of-state rate, I had to drop out because I racked up almost $45,000 in debt.”
Now 23, Zamborlini is making plans to go back to college, paying in-state rates, a fraction of the cost. It’s part of a new federal plan just put in place by President Barack Obama called DACA, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Qualifying immigrants, estimated at about 300 in Massachusetts, are protected from deportation for two years and are eligible to apply for a work permit. Zamborlini's is already official.
“With the decision by the President to defer action so called for undocumented students who otherwise qualified, those students would be eligible for in-state tuition so it’s an advisory our leadership in higher education to treat those students accordingly,” says Gov. Deval Patrick.
The Massachusetts Governor made the in-state tuition change official in a letter to the state's higher education commissioner Monday, rankling some republican lawmakers who feel he should not have acted unilaterally.
“It’s disappointing the Governor's sort of done this end run instead of trying to embrace and work with the legislature - say, ‘here's the issue,’” says Rep. Bradley Jones.
House Minority Leader Jones is calling for the in-state tuition rates to be stopped immediately. He says Gov. Patrick is putting his personal interests above those of state residents.
“My understanding is the Obama administration said it was still up to the states whether they did this so this doesn't seem as clear cut to me that it was: well, once he signed that, this automatically ensued.”
“It’s not a matter of interpretation; it's a matter of long-standing policy with a work permit, if you otherwise qualify for admission and qualify as a resident, you get to pay resident tuition,” says Gov. Patrick.
“So I'm finally going to be able to take a look at the opportunity of going back to school. UMass Boston: science with a minor in politics,” says Zamborlini.
As for the house republican leader’s effort to stop the tuition rate change, he may be facing an uphill battle.
Though he says he's concerned about several scenarios like military families based in Massachusetts, should they also be eligible for in-state rates? What about the children of wait listed -legal- immigrants? Could they have lost their spot to an illegal immigrant?
It's a conversation many republicans feel the legislature should have.