Goof-up – Arkansas Governor on Instate-Tuition for Undocumented Students

The Associated Press and several other news outlets picking up the AP are quoting the Arkansas Governor Beebee for stating that a “legal opinion he signed while he served as the state’s attorney general in 2005 clearly showed giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition likely would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.”

I was immediately curious as to how someone could possibly conceive that instate-tuition for undocumented students would violate the 14th Amendment. It made little sense–if anything, the opposite was closer to the truth. And I was correct. This is what the Governor actually wrote in his 2005 legal opinion:

“First, it is my opinion that the amendment adequately resolves the issue of possible violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. Both undocumented aliens and U.S. citizens who meet the requirements of attending high school in Arkansas can obtain resident tuition rates and eligibility for scholarships through HB 1525 on the same basis, following the amendment. Because there is no unequal or disparate treatment based on alienage and both groups or classes are treated equally, there is no denial of equal protection. Accordingly, it is my opinion that the amended bill would withstand scrutiny under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

Clearly, either the Governor is being quoted wrongly by media outlets or he has conveniently forgotton his legal opinion in the frenzy to scapegoat immigrant students.

The federal statute in question during instate-tuition debates is 8 U.S.C. § 1623, which 10 states have already circurmvented. Legal opinion on whether instate-tuition for undocumented students violates that federal statute is unresolved and varied at best. Till now, both the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the University of Central Arkansas in Conway had offered undocumented students in-state tuition rates. That is about to change.

The State Higher Education Director Jim Purcell has advised higher education schools in Arkansas to add questions of residency and U.S. citizenship on admissions forms, and to require a Social Security number or student visa number.

There may still be hope for undocumented students in Arkansas. Rep. Joyce Elliott has stated that she is considering reviving a 2005 bill that would authorize postsecondary institutions in the state to grant instate-tuition to undocumented student residents. The measure may be revived in 2009. Till then, Arkansas may be going the way of North Carolina, one step away from banning undocumented students from pursuing higher education.

I hope the people in North Carolina and Arkansas are feeling ‘safer’ and more ‘sovereign’ after these ill-conceived measures to target students who are simply caught in the crossfire of the illegal immigration debate. Making higher education unaffordable for the majority of undocumented students does not do anything to stem ‘illegal immigration’ — it treats hard-working, driven and assimilated American students as unassimilable criminals, punishing them for civil violations they did not commit by rendering them stateless and inactive. Keeping students in school should be one of our number one priorities–kicking them to the curb for factors beyond their control is cruel and unusual punishment.

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