Undocumented immigrants facing tuition hike

A small word change in a Missouri budget bill is costing two undocumented students big for the 2015-16 year.

Two MU students are facing a tuition increase of nearly $15,000 this year after a small word change in a Missouri budget bill.

The students, who are undocumented immigrants living in Missouri, will be charged out-of-state tuition for the first time this year after wording in House Bill 3 was changed from the 2014 version, which prohibited students with an “unlawful presence” from receiving in-state tuition rates, to students having an “unlawful status” — a change that state Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob, said was necessary because of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, which protects undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

“When we wrote the language last year, we didn’t really realize the DACA students had been granted lawful presence by some entities of the federal government, so this year we changed it to lawful status to clear up confusion on that particular front,” said Fitzpatrick, who worked on the bill.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said they cannot be named as they are protected by law and the university. These two are the only MU students MU knows are affected by the change.

Fitzpatrick said that if he had known the word change would affect currently enrolled students, he would have been willing to work on a solution to make the change only affect future students, but he was not aware of that until after the fact.

“We didn’t want it to be more attractive to immigrate illegally than it is to come here on a student visa and pay that rate of tuition, so we were kind of trying to provide guidance to the universities and make sure people who are here illegally do not get more favorable treatment than those who are here legally,” Fitzpatrick said.

Although colleges throughout Missouri will be enforcing the bill as law, some organizations are questioning its morality and validity.

“First of all, you shouldn't be discriminating students based on the country they were born in,” said Vanessa Crawford Aragón, executive director for the Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates in St. Louis.

they actuallput this language in the title of the appropriations bill, which isn't a regular statutory bill and you cannot legislate through the appropriations process.

Crawford Aragón said the change is legally unenforceable, as the language was put in the appropriations process, where one cannot legislate if they so choose.

For now, MU is working with these students to ensure they can continue their education. However, it is still unclear to administration exactly what aid can be offered.

“We want to make sure we are following the will and intent of the legislature, so we are reviewing that now,” Basi said. “We are working with those students to help them find additional financial aid.”

Another bill would have prevented these students from receiving state scholarships, but that bill was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

“The other thing sort of at play here is that there was another bill, Senate Bill 224, that limited the A+ scholarships to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents,” Crawford Aragón said. “Gov. Nixon vetoed that bill, so a lot of our efforts at the moment are organizing community members to support the veto and to stop the legislature from overriding that veto.”

The veto session for that bill is set to take place on Sept. 16.

Fitzpatrick said he received support for the word change for HB3 from both Democrats and Republicans, with 27 votes yes and seven no. Most of his office was in support of the bill as well.

Fitzpatrick was only aware that the change would affect current students at the Saint Louis Community College, which reached out to lawmakers for advice on the matter.

In 2014, Fitzpatrick learned that STLCC was offering undocumented students the rate of tuition based on where they currently reside, which meant that in-district, undocumented students would receive a better tuition rate than in-state residents. Fitzpatrick said he and most of his colleagues agreed that they did not want undocumented students to receive a better rate of tuition than Missouri residents, but they did not know it was an issue at other colleges yet.

“When we had that bill last year, there was a fiscal note on the bill dealing with tuition where all the universities who responded indicated that it would have no impact because it was their current practice to already charge those students whatever the highest tuition was,” Fitzpatrick said. “So as far as we were concerned, and the impression we received, was that nobody was doing this yet, other than Saint Louis Community College.”

Crawford Aragón said since her students have been getting their financial aid notices, she has talked to some students who have been looking to schools outside of Missouri for better tuition rates, and has even met some students who do not think they will be able to go to college at all anymore.

“I think the thing to keep in mind is the people who are impacted by this are students who are just like any other students at these universities, they qualified for in-state tuition because they graduated from high school in Missouri,” Crawford Aragón said. “They did what they needed to do to qualify to go to college, they jumped through all of the hoops that everybody else has, so there's just no reason to charge them an exorbitant tuition rate.”

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