Killing a Dream

Fremont state senator wants to remove in-state tuition for Nebraska’s undocumented image

More than a dozen opponents — including groups like Nebraska's Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, Building Bright Futures, the Nebraska Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, and the largest Hispanic Conservative group, Somos Republicans — testified Monday that the Legislature's Education Committee should kill a bill to repeal the state's Dream Act, a 2006 law that allows some undocumented immigrant students in-state college tuition. But if the committee decides not to advance State Sen. Charlie Janssen's bill — for the second-straight year — give credit to the death blow to attorney Shirley Mora James. The Nebraska Hispanic Bar Association President, Mora James testified that numerous recent court cases, as well as documentation from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE), have shown providing in-state tuition to undocumented students is lawful — the crux of Janssen's argument is that the bill violates federal law. She told the committee that ICE issued a letter to the North Carolina Attorney General's Office in 2008 that said offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants was not considered a public benefit, and therefore did not violate federal immigration law. She said the California Supreme Court ruled similarly in November. A Jefferson County district judge dismissed a suit in December charging the legality of Nebraska's law. “What the legislature did in 2006 is legal,” Mora James said. “It was legal then. It's legal now, and I believe that it will continue to be legal, unless the federal government passes a law that makes it illegal.” James Milliken, president of the University of Nebraska, was not at the hearing, but presented a statement that said, when “increasing educational attainment is key to our ability to compete effectively in the knowledge-based innovation economy, repealing a state law that promotes this goal is counterproductive at best.” Former State Sen. Dianna Schimek helped lead the successful effort to pass the law, which required three bills, an interim study and a vote to override Gov. Dave Heineman's veto. The bill allows in-state college tuition rates to undocumented immigrants who graduate from Nebraska high schools after having lived in the state for at least three years, and who are pursuing or promise to pursue legal status. It affected fewer than 50 students in the University of Nebraska system last fall. “It is difficult to understand why anyone would be against this law,” Schimek said at the hearing. “Tuition for out-of-state students is nearly triple what it is for students from Nebraska. Most of the students affected by this bill come from families that struggle to support their children, let alone educate them. “The bottom line is that we lose some of our best and brightest students if they cannot afford college.” Janssen, who, in his first term, has quickly established himself as a staunch foe of undocumented immigration, doesn't buy it. “They went to college here before — they went after,” he said in an interview last week with The Reader. “… If they qualified for scholarships, they got them. And I find it hard to believe that those students wouldn't remain. They'd probably remain here, illegally. They would probably gain financial assistance from these very organizations that are opposing every bill that I put forward to try to curb illegal immigration.” Janssen has also introduced a bill, LB 48, that would require police officers, when enforcing other laws, to question the immigration status of people they suspect are in the country illegally. It's modeled after the 2009 Arizona law being challenged in federal court. Janssen concedes LB 48 isn't likely to advance out of the judiciary committee. Marshall Hill, executive director of Nebraska's Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education, says undocumented immigrant students cannot receive federal or Nebraska need-based financial aid. “I believe it boils down to simple human compassion,” he says. “You either get on the side of trying to make human progress, or you don't.” Proponents of the bill included Susan Smith, Minutemen member and founder of the Nebraskans Advisory Group, a main supporter of the city of Fremont's ordinance that would prevent undocumented immigrants from living or working in the city. That bill has been held up in court since last June. Two men, John Weigert and Jerry Hart, who were petitioners on that ordinance, also testified. The state's Dream Act is a “slap in the face to everybody that's come here and done it the right way,” Hart said. “ … If there's anything that anyone who comes here illegally deserves it's to be deported.” Dale Monsell of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, the state's Tea Party group, said undocumented students should hold their parents accountable. “Illegal aliens are nationals of foreign countries,” he said. “Their education is the responsibility of those nations.” Another man, Mike Barges, mentioned during testimony that his brother was killed by an illegal immigrant. “We can't have a whole segment of our society in our community that has no ties to this community,” he said.

posted at 10:46 pm
on Thursday, February 10th, 2011

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