By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
---- — BOSTON — Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and others sought to put the issue of offering in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants into economic terms, while the House’s Republican leadership called for implementation of the new policy on tuition to “be stopped immediately.”
Both Democrats and Republicans this week also used the step taken by Gov. Deval Patrick to look ahead to the legislative session that begins in January, when in-state tuition for a broader class of undocumented immigrants could resurface in a more significant way than in recent years.
Gov. Deval Patrick wrote a letter this week to Higher Education Commissioner Richard Freeland informing him that young immigrants granted “deferred status” under President Barack Obama new deportation policy should be offered in-state tuition at public colleges and universities in Massachusetts.
The administration said it based the decision on the availability of federal work permits to the new class of immigrants, which is one of the 16 ways a student can prove lawful immigrant status in Massachusetts to qualify for the tuition break.
House Minority Brad Jones said that while making higher education affordable to Massachusetts residents is important, the state must be “judicious and fair in how we award such benefits.”
“Governor Patrick’s most recent attempt to usurp the power of the Legislature is cause for concern. Instead of engaging elected officials from both political parties in constructive conversation and debate, he has put his interests, both politically and personally, above those of Massachusetts’ residents,” Jones said in a statement.
Patrick based his decision on the new federal policy started by Obama over the summer with an executive order giving immigrants under 31 who came to the United States before their 16th birthday the opportunity to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status. Those approved would be protected from deportation for two years, and allowed to apply for work permits.
“While this change in federal enforcement policy applies only to a small segment of our immigrant population and is no substitute for comprehensive immigration reform, it is certainly a step in the right direction,” Patrick wrote to Freeland.
Jones did not identify any means by which he might seek to stop the administration from implementing the tuition policy, and Patrick said he continues to support comprehensive immigration reform efforts at the national level and legislation locally to grant in-state tuition to all undocumented immigrants who attended high school in Massachusetts.
“We are exploring all possibilities,” said Peter Lorenz, a spokesman for the minority leader. “Should we decide to file a bill, it would most likely be at the beginning of the next legislative session, and would be in conjunction with legislation aimed at providing tuition and fee waivers for active duty servicepersons who are permanent and legal residents of Massachusetts. The bill will also include veterans of the Commonwealth who attend any state college, community college, or state university.”
Patrick has long supported in-state tuition for undocumented students who have grown up in Massachusetts, attended schools here, and are pursuing a path to citizenship.
Asked whether he might file or push for a Massachusetts-based in-state tuition bill during the coming session, Patrick said, “I hope so, but I hope also that we’re going to get comprehensive immigration reform from the Congress and that will answer a lot of the questions that we in this state have and other states have.”
Murray, before speaking at a State House luncheon hosted by the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugees Advocacy Coalition, said he supported the application of the new federal program in Massachusetts to include tuition breaks.
“I think these are young people who have played by the rules, demonstrated academic capacity and have the right to be able to apply and if they’re admitted we should try to make sure these young people are reaching their full potential,” Murray said.
Noting that taxpayers in Worcester already pay $10,500 per student annually for public education for these same immigrants, Murray said, “The people of the Commonwealth are already investing in these young people.”
Republicans weren’t the only ones in the Legislature concerned that Patrick might be circumventing their authority with his interpretation of the new federal programs.
Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge) wasn’t excited with Patrick’s decision. “I think it’s something the Legislature should discuss, not be done by executive order. But the president has done the same thing pretty much,” Moore said Monday outside the annual MIRA Thanksgiving lunch in Great Hall.
Moore wouldn’t say whether the policy could or should be reversed by the Legislature, only that “it should have been discussed more fully” with the branches.
“Given the limitations on access by taxpayers, it’s a concern whether it’s the right policy at this point in time,” Moore said.
Treasurer Steven Grossman said it was “not true” that undocumented immigrants would be taking admission slots away from legal residents. “No place at one of our public colleges or universities will be denied to any other child or student by virtue of these children being offered in-state tuition,” Grossman said.
Grossman also suggested that training these immigrant students would be beneficial to the future of the state’s economy.
“We have over 119,000 jobs that are posted that we can’t fill,” Grossman said. “I mean we need every one one of those young people getting a great education, going to a public college or university, whether it’s a community college or four-year university or the UMass system and then taking their place in this workforce.”