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Immigrant tuition plan clears committee May 6, 2005
Emelie Rutherford Metrowest Daily News
BOSTON -- A legislative committee yesterday voted in favor of allowing children of illegal immigrants to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates, following five hours of public debate that included tears, sometimes-conflicting data and threats of lawsuits.

State Rep. Deborah Blumer, D-Framingham, told the overflow crowd at the State House that such children, some of whom would not be able to attend college unless they are eligible for the lower in-state rates, are "a lot more than a minority statistic."

"These are kids that we know, people in our community know," Blumer said, pointing out that one-third of students who enter the Framingham schools speak primary languages other than English.

"For most of these kids...this is their country," said state Rep. Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland.

The legislation requires such students to have lived in state for three years, have graduated from Massachusetts high schools and be seeking citizenship or permanent residency.

The full House will weigh the matter soon, said House Ways and Means Committee Vice Chairwoman Marie St. Fleur, who filed one of the two bills and ran yesterday's hearing.  Committee Assistant Vice Chairman Rep. James Vallee, D-Franklin, said the tuition plan "sends the wrong message to the hard-working people in the commonwealth."

He said he believes the subject should be debated by all House lawmakers.

Supporters of the tuition plan yesterday ranged from college presidents to civil rights and labor leaders to illegal immigrant high school students, who told of their desire to go to college but inability to pay higher out-of-state tuition.

"I'm not giving up on my colleagues," St. Fleur told a tearful group of such teens from the Boston area.  "I hope they see more in you than just a dollar sign."

The financial impact of the tuition plan is not clear.

Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey estimated a cost to taxpayers of $3.7 million per year.  On the flip side, several supporters have said the tuition plan would generate up to $2 million in additional tuition for the state's public colleges.  While that statistic is widely attributed to the state Board of Higher Education, employees at the board said the data never came from their office.

Bunker Hill Community College President Mary Fifield said the tuition plan would help fill job shortages in the state in areas such as health care.

"We believe that everyone who deserves to go to college should in fact go to college," Fifield said.

State Rep. Marie Parente, D-Milford, visibly angered some immigrants when she said the tuition plan would make the country susceptible to further terrorist attacks.

The legislation "provides an additional incentive to illegals to remain here and will serve only (to) perpetuate this population of law violators and encourage more to join them," Parente said, reading a letter from relatives of some victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It will preserve the population of lawbreakers that provided concealment for the terrorists," Parente read from the letter.

Saying "breaking the law should not entitle you to public benefits," Healey said Romney would veto the tuition plan, as he did last year.

Ned Price of the Concerned Citizens and Friends of Immigration Law Enforcement in Framingham rejected arguments that the state should consider the tuition plan a continuing investment in children whose primary education it already helped fund.

"The K-12 education they've gotten is like dinner," Price said.  "The fact that they're now getting a subsidy to go to college is like dessert," which he said other people deserve.

Other opponents of illegal immigration pledged if the state passes a law, lawsuits will follow.

"I would support a lawsuit," said Price, a Framingham Town Meeting member.

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