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Bill would aid undocumented immigrants

BY MITCHELL SCHMIDT | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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Eva wants nothing more than to go to an Iowa university. But the 21-year-old has one problem: She is an undocumented immigrant.

The Marshalltown High graduate, who asked not to be named because of her immigration status, must pay thousands more in out-of-state tuition if she wants to pursue higher education — a price the Tijuana, Mexico, native cannot afford.

“It’s really frustrating,” she said. “I really want to go to school.”

A bill in the Iowa House Education Committee could change that.

The bill — the Iowa Opportunities and Workforce Act — would allow undocumented immigrants more access to higher education by charging them the same in-state tuition as their classmates and friends.

Under the bill, students would be required to attend at least five years of school in Iowa, graduate from an Iowa high school, and sign an affidavit stating they will apply for legal status as soon as eligible.

Ruth Schultz, an organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, which lobbied for the bill, said the students affected have been living in Iowa most, if not all, of their lives. Eva moved to Iowa when she was 9.

“This is their community; this is where they want to be,” Schultz said.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, introduced the bill first in 2007 to little response and again this year. In 2004, the Iowa House passed the bill, but the Senate did not.

Abdul-Samad said the bill would not only give more individuals the opportunity to achieve higher education, it would also increase citizenship in Iowa.

“I think it’s a good bill,” he said. “It’s a win-win for Iowa.”

Ten states across the nation have passed similar bills, including Illinois, Texas, and California, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

“I think if it passes in other states, then there’s no reason it shouldn’t pass in Iowa,” said Veronica Guevara, a member of Citizens for Community Improvement.

However, not all Iowans are in favor of the bill.

Robert Ussery, the director of the Des Moines chapter of the Minutemen Civil Defense Corps — an organization dedicated to seeing the U.S. borders secured against unlawful entry, said he believes the legislation would violate federal law. He argued if the government offered in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, the same courtesy should be extended to all American citizens.

Abdul-Samad noted that if the bill doesn’t make it to the floor by Friday, it will be dropped for the year.

Both Schultz and Abdul-Samad conceded the odds of the bill being discussed before the end of the week are uncertain.

“A lot of people use immigration as an election battering ram,” Schultz said.

Members of Citizens for Community Improvement said that if the bill does not pass this year, they will push harder for it next year.

Abdul-Samad agreed: “Without a doubt.”


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