In-State Tuition Bill seen as rights issue
For many of the activists who have joined forces in the fight for
the In-State Tuition Bill, the issue is one of basic fairness.
The fact that teenage undocumented immigrants who have attended
Massachusetts high schools and whose parents have worked in the
state and paid into the state’s tax base are unable to pay
in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities amounts
to discrimination, the activists argue.
“Our children have been lacking the opportunities they deserve
so much,” said Puerto Rican community activist Jose Masso
during a press conference last week. “We cannot accept this
one more minute.”
The press conference, called last week by a mostly Latino group
of activists, was one in a series of actions in recent weeks aimed
at keeping up pressure on legislators to pass the bill with the
two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto by Governor Mitt
Meanwhile, Romney and Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, who has appeared
increasingly hostile toward immigrant causes, have vowed to defeat
Healey angered the measure’s supporters in October with her
suggestion that undocumented high school graduates attend private
colleges — a suggestion that was compared to Marie Antionette’s
pre-revolutionary suggestion that starving French peasants subsist
“What country are we living in?” asked City Councilor
Felix Arroyo. “What attitude are we showing toward the people
who are our future?”
While the exact number of undocumented immigrants in Massachusetts
is unknown, the bill’s backers estimate that no more than
400 immigrant high school students a year would be eligible for
in-state tuition rates under the measure.
However, in many states that have passed similar bills, the number
of students who have opted in have been in the dozens. But to activists,
the raw numbers are not as important as the principle.
“It’s because it’s our children,” said Giovanna
Negretti, executive director of the Latino political organization
¿Oiste?, explaining the importance of the issue to immigrant
communities. “It’s about good kids who just want to
do the right thing.”
In Massachusetts, Latino students are among the lowest-scoring groups
on the MCAS exam and have some of the highest drop-out rates. Denying
in-state tuition rates to those undocumented teenagers who are able
to overcome the odds sends a discouraging message, according to
Melissa Colon, who heads Inciativa, a Latino education reform organization.
“The state’s leadership is saying ‘continue to
live in the shadows. We prefer that you work as dishwashers and
janitors,’” Colon said. “This is about dignity.
This is about justice. We are denying high-achieving students an
When a delegation of Latino activists sought a meeting with the
governor concerning the issue in October, they were given short
shrift, according to Elena Leton, who heads Centro Presente.
“We were shunned,” she said. “We were not allowed
in. We got to see an aide, and he would not even give us his last
Negretti said the Romney administration’s opposition to the
In-State Tuition Bill reflects the governor’s national ambitions
and the Republican party’s willingness to tap into anti-immigration
sentiment for political gain.
“They’re running an anti-immigration platform,”
she said of Romney and Healey. “This is not an economic burden
to the state. It’s really difficult to understand their reasoning
behind this other than plain old discrimination.”