(Updated) Equity and justice were just two reasons Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney believes that momentum is building for legislation that allows undocumented students pay the same college tuition rates as other Connecticut residents.
“Nothing is more truly American than the dream that these young people are pursing,“ Looney said.
Proponents like Looney argue these undocumented students shouldn’t be punished for what their parents did.
“In many cases these children have no memory of the countries they lived in prior to coming to the United States,” he said.
He said giving these students the in-state tuition rates probably means they will still have to struggle and work to go to school, but at least college tuition will be reasonable and not out of reach.
This is not a ticket to a free ride that will burden taxpayers, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman said Tuesday at a press conference. She said it’s actually the opposite, it recognizes the reality of these students and the economic reality the state is dealing with, which is why Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has pitched it as one of his budget proposals this year.
“If job creation is our agenda the why on earth would we want to slam the door on bright young students that are future taxpayers,” Wyman wondered.
Lorella Praeli, a 22-year-old originally from Peru, who came “out of the shadows” last year after she was told to wait.
When the U.S. Senate vote on the relief for undocumented minors fell five votes short, “we were told to wait to put our dreams on hold,” she said. “Ladies and gentlemen our dreams are too important, too valuable to put on hold.”
She asked lawmakers to ignore the “empty arguments” of those that say “we are not deserving,” or who argue “we’d be taking up spots of Connecticut residents.”
“We are residents of the state of Connecticut,” Praeli said explaining that many have gone to school in the state for many years, some like her sister, since kindergarten.
“We can not change federal immigration policy, but we can do something right here in our state by making some of these dreams a reality,” she said.
Praeli has said she was lucky enough to land a full ride to Quinnipiac University through a private scholarship. Otherwise, she would have had to pay three times the rate of in-state tuition at an in-state college or university.
But her arguments and those of New Haven lawmakers and the governor may not be heard by everyone.
Rep. Juan Candelaria, D-New Haven, a passionate advocate for the bill said “it’s more than a social issue it’s a moral issue.”
However, Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said the state would be educating a workforce employers won’t be able to hire in Connecticut. He also said there’s likely to be a legal challenge to the legislation, if it’s passed.
Katie Chamblee, a Yale Law School student, said California has passed similar language and it withstood a Supreme Court challenge in that state last year. She said she’s confident the courts in Connecticut would reject any challenge of the law. She said it’s clearly in compliance with federal law, which allows states to make its own laws.
Candelora said he understands there’s no prohibition but it exposes the state.
Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton, said last week that the measure would be unfair to the state’s legal residents.
Connecticut has worked hard to build its public higher education institutes into some of the best in the country, she said. As a result, admissions at state’s universities and colleges have already become highly competitive, she said.
She used the University of Connecticut as an example. The school has 23,000 applicants for 3,000 freshmen slots, she said. Of those slots, 1,000 go to out-of-state students, who pay more and bring in money to the school, while the other 2,000 go to in-state students, she said.
“So all those kids that want to come to UConn from this state have a heck of a lot of competition amongst the kids who are naturally born and here with full legal status. That’s competition with a big ‘C,’” she said. “How do I say to those student and parents, ‘oh by the way, we’re going to take those seats away from you and give them to undocumented kids?’”
According to Werner Oyanadel acting director of the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission, UConn until recently didn’t accept undocumented students. He said communications with the university liasion found the university currently has two undocumented students paying out-of-state tuition rates.
Wyman said she would make sure UConn accepts undocumented students if this legislation passes.
Public testimony on the legislation was mostly in favor of it, however, there were also opponents like Lynn Gold.
Lynn Gold, said passing this legislation would open up a Pandora’s box.
“If a person is an illegal alien that person is a felon,” Gold said.
“I take great umberage with you calling them felons,” Rep. Timothy LeGeyt, R-Canton, told Gold. He said many who testified Tuesday are in the position they are in because of something their parents did. It was through no fault of their own.