Some young immigrants brought to the country illegally as children will become eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at public universities and community colleges in Massachusetts as part of a new federal program put in place over the summer by President Barack Obama, according to a senior Patrick administration official.
Obama signed an executive order in June and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in August began accepting applications for “deferred action” from young immigrants who met certain criteria, such as being brought to the country before they turned 16. Qualifying immigrants will be protected from deportation for at least two years, and become eligible to apply for a work permit.
Gov. Deval Patrick on Monday plans to send a letter to Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland explaining that his administration has determined under existing state policy that immigrants granted deferred status by the federal government are eligible for reduced in-state tuition rates at the state’s 29 college and university campuses, the official said.
As with other students, this new group of eligible in-state students will have to comply with all other state residency requirements.
Currently, anyone with a work permit can qualify for in-state tuition. The official, who spoke on background because not all stakeholders had been briefed on the decision, characterized the guidelines as an application of the new federal rules in keeping with existing state policy.
In the letter, Patrick will direct Freeland to share the administration’s direction on tuition eligibility with the chancellors and presidents of the state campuses so that they can begin to implement the policy immediately.
The change in federal immigration policy, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, was put in place by Obama over the summer and modeled, in part, on the DREAM Act that lacked enough support to get through Congress.
In order to qualify for “deferred action,” an individual must have been younger than 31 as of June 15, 2012 and come to the United States prior to turning 16. He or she must also have lived continuously in the United States since June 15, 2007 and either be enrolled in school, graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or be a veteran of the military and have no felony or serious misdemeanor convictions.
While proponents argue that offering in-state tuition could increase revenue for campuses by attracting students who wouldn’t ordinarily apply, critics contend that illegal immigrants could be taking spots away from legal residents while paying less than students who live along the state borders. Opponents have also expressed concern that in-state tuition rates could be an inducement for illegal immigrants to move to Massachusetts.
Patrick has long supported offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who grew up and attended high school in Massachusetts. During a radio interview last month, Patrick called it a “matter of fairness.” "They didn't sneak in," he said. "They were brought here by their parents. They only know one country and that is the United States,” he said.
In-state tuition at UMass Amherst, for example, costs about $13,000 less for an in-state student.
Patrick stopped by unexpectedly at the last legislative hearing on an in-state tuition bill in 2011, telling lawmakers, "It's time for us to fix the law.” The governor, however, has never made much of a push to pass legislation beyond public statements of support, and proposals over the years on have failed to generate support in the Legislature.
While it’s unclear how many immigrants living in Massachusetts have applied for deferred status or may seek to take advantage of the reduced tuition rates, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Friday posted a bulletin indicating that 53,273 people had been approved thus far for DACA benefits.
While nearly 300,000 people have already applied nationwide, Massachusetts did not rank among the top 10 states listed, suggesting that fewer than Virginia’s 5,886 had applied from the state.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation has previously estimated that 315 to 365 undocumented immigrants would enroll in public colleges and universities each year if Massachusetts were to adopt in-state tuition rates for graduating high school students in the country illegally. Those students, according to the foundation, could be absorbed into the state's public higher education system without impact, according to the report.
At least 12 states have adopted laws allowing undocumented immigrants to pay lower in-state tuition rates, including Texas and Connecticut.