Should the state grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who live in Iowa?


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Ah, illegal immigration. Next to gay marriage and abortion, the issue is guaranteed to incite some of the most visceral, impassioned debates in the political arena.

Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, had to realize as much when he introduced a bill that would allow illegal immigrants accepted into community colleges or state universities to receive in-state tuition rates. The individual would have to have attended an accredited school in Iowa for at least five years before graduating from high school and, if he or she didn’t have a Social Security number, the individual would be required to “pursue citizenship in the United States at the earliest possible time.”

I can see the demagogic campaign commercial already, replete with bold lettering, nefarious characters, and overly zealous outrage. “And while YOU were working hard and working through this tough economy, the LIBERAL Democrats in the Legislature were handing out your money to ILLEGALS at state universities.”

Opponents of the bill have some legitimate financial concerns. With a gaping budget hole, giving undocumented immigrants in-state tuition surely wouldn’t help the state’s finances.

First off, this relatively parochial debate overlooks the root causes of illegal immigration. The United States’ trade policies have contributed to the exodus of immigrants from their home countries, and our too-strict immigration policies have criminalized their basic yearning for a better life.

And at its core, the tuition issue is one of fairness: Should the children of illegal immigrants be punished for the country’s broken immigration system? Should recently graduated illegal immigrants, brought to the United States by their parents, be denied the chance to further their education and contribute to society?

Higher education has two principal goals: to help students develop the skills critical to participating in our democracy and to prepare them for postgraduation employment. To deny either of those to children of illegal immigrants is to ostracize them and stultify their civic and educational development.

Hard-working immigrants shouldn’t be penalized for wanting to further their education. They’re just as Iowan as any other Iowa native.

— by Shawn Gude


Granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition is to be ignorant of Iowa’s current budgetary situation. The Iowa Legislature has made deep budget cuts in recent months, and the state Board of Regents just approved a 6 percent tuition increase for the next school year. As always, tuition increases fill funding gaps left by cuts from state appropriations. Given that tuition increases every year to fill gaps in the budget, why would any Iowa legislator in her or his right mind push for a law that would further burden the budget?

Letting illegal immigrants receive in-state tuition rates is a slap across the face to lifelong Iowa residents who have invested in their state’s institutions of higher learning their entire working lives with their tax dollars. The fact that illegal immigrants do not pay Iowa income taxes means they should pay out-of-state tuition rates, just as the myriad of students from Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and other states do every year.

Supporters of the bill suggest the mythical $1 million, college “lifetime earnings boost” would make up for the fact that illegal immigrants did not previously invest in Iowa’s colleges with income taxes but could do so with the earnings boost gained from attending college. Whatever the sum, no legislator or supporter of the bill can guarantee any amount of the money gained would wind up as tax revenue for Iowa or that the student wouldn’t take their degree and move to a different state for higher wages, as many Iowans do each year.

Going back to the out-of-state tuition analogy, granting illegal immigrants in-state tuition would be akin to allowing students from Illinois to receive in-state tuition if they promise to live in Iowa after graduation and pay Iowa taxes. If that deal seems hard to enforce, it’s because it would be nearly impossible to enforce — and would leave citizens of Iowa and the United States picking up the tab at a later date.

— by Jonathan Groves

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