November 17, 2005 – Vol. 41, No. 14

In-State Tuition Bill seen as rights issue

Yawu Miller

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 Romney.

Meanwhile, Romney and Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, who has appeared increasingly hostile toward immigrant causes, have vowed to defeat the measure.

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 on cake.

“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 opportunity.”

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 name.”

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.”





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