Tuition for illegal immigrants a fine plan

by Beacon Staff • February 20, 2008

In-state tuition rate for illegal immigrants.

Our View:

Despite certain drawbacks, the initiative is a worthy venture,There's nothing unfamiliar about vitriol aimed at illegal immigrants during an election cycle, but this year's rhetoric has been particularly intense. Lingering bitterness over the failure to pass comprehensive immigration reform, growing economic frustrations and good old-fashioned nativism have created a nasty mood that has infected not only the presidential campaign, but local and state politics as well.

In that light, the knee-jerk reaction to Gov. Deval Patrick's plan to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities is no surprise. But the fierce and widespread opposition facing the initiative is especially unfortunate in Massachusetts, known for its cosmopolitanism and fondness for higher education.

Patrick's tuition scheme-which may have to be implemented by circumventing a hostile legislature-would likely require recipients to have lived in the state for three years and earned a high school diploma. These were, at least, the details of his proposal in 2006, which failed to pass the deeply divided House of Representatives.

The talking points of those opposed to Patrick's proposal are not unusual: it rewards bad behavior by giving breaks to those who have no business being here in the first place; it's a thumb-in-the-eye to those immigrants pursuing legal naturalization; it's an insult to law-abiding tax-paying citizens, who are first and foremost entitled to state programs.

These complaints are not without their merits. Many illegal immigrants have not shouldered a tax burden on par with legitimate Massachusetts residents, yet they would reap all the same benefits. And it sends an awful message to legal immigrants, many of whom waited years before they could boast, "I am an American."

Ultimately, though, these grievances do not do justice to the hard-working illegal immigrants and their college-bound children. Worse, they suggest a scary and distinctly anti-American mentality which views any and all foreigners as unworthy to live in this melting pot.

Such viewpoints are hardly novel, unfortunately. Sen. John McCain, the front runner for the Republican nomination for president, is hated by many within his party partly for his support of immigration reform, which his critics derisively call, in all of its forms, "amnesty."

Former governor and GOP candidate Mike Huckabee was criticized for saying in a debate that government benefits should extend to the children of illegal immigrants because "it is wrong to punish the child for the sins of the father."

It is not just Republicans who have suffered for their relaxed immigration stances. Eliot Spitzer, the Democratic Governor of New York, was forced to abandon a plan to give driver's licenses to undocumented workers because of fervent opposition from all sides of the political spectrum.

But here in Massachusetts, we expect something different when it comes to tolerance and equality for all people. Our support for gay marriage says that we are a liberal state, yes, but also an accepting one.

These values are unfortunately not being reflected in the reaction to Patrick's tuition plan; the discourse over the issue has been as dirty here as it has been all around the country.

The plan may or may not be implemented, but in either case, the way we arrived there is not becoming of the great state of Massachusetts.