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Posted Thursday, January 10, 2008
                 
Mass. Governor Patrick is inclined to permit illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges 
                       
By The Associated Press

BOSTON—Gov. Deval Patrick said Thursday he's looking into whether he can skirt the Legislature by unilaterally allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges. more stories like this.

Patrick's revelation touched off strong reaction on Beacon Hill, where House lawmakers two years ago defied Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and defeated a bill that would let those students pay the same rate as their high school classmates.

"We have had some legal research done to see whether it's possible to address that question without legislation," the Democratic governor told an audience of education and business leaders. "The answer to that is by no means clear."

Also Thursday, Patrick unveiled details of his bill to create a cabinet-level education secretary who would oversee what he expects to be widespread reform. But he warned those reforms -- including lengthening the school day and providing two years of free community college education -- "will take us a decade to implement."

Patrick wants Massachusetts to join 10 states -- California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington -- that offer some illegal immigrant students in-state tuition rates.

"We don't tell immigrant children, I think the term is undocumented immigrant children, that they can't go to public colleges and universities," Patrick said. "We say they can come, we just say they have to pay a different rate than the kid who sat across the aisle from them at the local high school. That to me doesn't seem right. But I don't have the answer yet on how to fix this. I want to fix this."

Bunker Hill Community College, for example, charges out-of-state students $318 per credit, compared with $112 per credit for legal Massachusetts residents.

Opposition to the tuition break is rooted in the larger ideological issue of how to address illegal immigration. Opponents say the state shouldn't be making it easier for undocumented students, who could take higher paying jobs from legal residents.

"I'm amazed that he wants to be the sole person responsible for implementation of the wrong policy for Massachusetts," said House Minority Leader Bradley Jones, R-North Reading. "The public will be rightly incensed."

Jones said he hasn't researched whether the governor can grant the tuition breaks.

"We provide the free public education K-through-12 for these students," he said. "We've already done quite a bit for these students. By doing this, we would add incentives for people to come here. Illegal immigrants do pretty well finding out where the best places for them to go are."

One estimate says it would cost Massachusetts about $15 million to provide the tuition cut. But the governor's office highlighted a Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation report from 2006 that said it would generate $2.5 million in revenue because up to 600 new students might enroll.

In January 2006, the House voted 57-96 to defeat a bill to allow the tuition breaks, despite DiMasi's support of the measure.

DiMasi spokesman Dave Guarino said the speaker was awaiting the results of Patrick's review, and wouldn't comment further. Dave Falcone, a spokesman for Senate President Therese Murray, who has supported the tuition breaks in the past, said there "hasn't been any discussion between the three leaders about whether or not this is the way to go."

Ali Noorani, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said he has lobbied Patrick, DiMasi and Murray to find a "permanent solution to this loophole."

Copyright 2008 Associated Press

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