Bill eases Pennsylvania tuition for undocumented residents

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HARRISBURG -- A Republican state senator stood with unauthorized immigrants and Democratic colleagues Monday to announce the introduction of a bill to allow students without documentation to pay in-state tuition rates at Pennsylvania public universities.

Students from outside Pennsylvania -- or, in this case, those who lack documentation -- can expect to pay significantly more than state residents. At the 14 state-owned universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, full-time students from Pennsylvania are charged $6,428 in tuition for the academic year, while nonresidents pay between $9,642 and $16,070.

Sen. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, described his bill as a way to give all young people in Pennsylvania equal access to higher education -- and as a proposal distinct from the exchange about immigration overhaul in Washington.

"This can quickly get wrapped up in the larger federal debate over immigration, which I understand," Mr. Smucker said. "I do think that our immigration policy in the country is broken and should be fixed, and I'm glad we're seeing discussion at that level. But it really isn't about that. This is very narrow in its focus.

"These are kids we've already invested in," he continued. "They have the opportunity to contribute. They will be here. So why not give them every chance to contribute? I think it's an economic investment."

The legislation has 12 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, and three other Republicans, he said. Supporters referred to it as the Pennsylvania Dream Act, although it differs from the federal legislation by that name that would provide a path to legal status for certain young people.

Several young people at the Capitol news conference spoke about their experiences as undocumented immigrants and their aspirations to higher education. Jose Cortez, 19, said his parents brought him to the United States at age 6 to provide a better future, away from the crime and violence of their home in Mexico.

"Undocumented students are willing to work as hard as their legal classmates in school to achieve this education and to achieve their goals," he said. "The dream we all share is to lead a good life and provide assurance to our families that everything will be all right by the end of the day."

If the proposal finds support in the Senate, it could face opposition in the House, where Republican spokesman Steve Miskin said in-state tuition would serve as an incentive to bypass immigration procedures.

"At a time when we're starting to craft a budget and looking for state funding, a big question is: Where is the money coming from?" he said. "We fully support legal immigration, but we do not support people breaking the law."

State-owned universities, such as Slippery Rock University or California University of Pennsylvania, use state appropriations to support Pennsylvania residents but charge nonresidents the full cost of their education, said Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the state system.

education - electionspa - state

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com or 717-787-2141.


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