Government & Politics

Dreamers will still have to pay international tuition at Missouri colleges

DACA supporters protested President Donald Trump's executive action ending the Obama-era program on Tuesday evening, Sept. 5, 2017, at the J.C. Nichols Fountain.
DACA supporters protested President Donald Trump's executive action ending the Obama-era program on Tuesday evening, Sept. 5, 2017, at the J.C. Nichols Fountain. kmyers@kcstar.com

Missouri's ban on in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants isn't going anywhere.

The Missouri House on Tuesday rejected on a 104-37 vote a long-shot effort by Rep. Judy Morgan to revoke a state budget provision that requires students with "unlawful immigration status" to be charged at least as much in tuition as international students. The law also bars undocumented students from receiving state scholarships.

"Even our neighboring state of Kansas allows for undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition," said Morgan, a Democrat representing downtown Kansas City.

Morgan and opponents of the existing policies argued that many undocumented students "had no choice in entering the United States" because they moved to the country as young children with their families.

Because of their immigration status, Morgan said, undocumented students' options for attending college are limited and they should be eligible for more affordable tuition. She contended that allowing undocumented students to pay in-state fees would boost tuition revenue for colleges because the students would not otherwise enroll.

Supporters of the ban argued that taxpayer resources shouldn't be spent on those in the country in violation of U.S. law. They urged undocumented students to pursue citizenship, though many might not be eligible.

"They were brought here by their parents," Morgan said. "They have grown up in our country, and they can make economic and social contributions if allowed to continue their study in college. I believe they should be allowed to pay in-state tuition."

Both Missouri policies affect "Dreamers," or recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era policy that protects from deportation undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children. President Donald Trump's administration moved to rescind the program, but that attempt is caught up in federal court.

While DACA protects some undocumented immigrants from deportation, it does not provide lawful status or provide a pathway to citizenship.

"So while there seems to be broad and widespread support, bipartisan support here and at the national level, the problem is there is no or very few opportunities for students who know no other place to be home to become citizens of this country," said Lauren Arthur, a Clay County Democrat.

Lawmakers who favor the ban on reduced tuition argue that providing reduced tuition for undocumented students takes state resources from lawful residents.

Rep. Lyle Rowland, a Cedarcreek Republican, argued that the General Assembly's first priority should be "legal citizens" of Missouri.

"I would think that students that are receiving their free education up through their high school diploma would think that they need to start the process of becoming an American citizen instead of trying to take money out of the pockets of our Missourians who truly need to have some higher education," Rowland said.

But DACA recipients do not have a pathway to citizenship.

Missouri lawmakers voted in favor of an amendment restoring cuts to colleges and universities made last year by Gov. Eric Greitens. The spending vote and DACA rejection came as part of the budget debate in the House Tuesday night. Legislators gave first-round approval to a bill setting the budget for Missouri higher education.

The House Budget Committee's previous version of the bill partially restored higher education funds, but Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican and the committee's chair, said he would fully restore the funds if schools limited their tuition increases. Colleges and universities, in turn, agreed they wouldn't raise tuition for next year more than 1 percent.

"This investment will help us serve Missourians through robust education, research, outreach and economic development — meeting the state’s workforce needs, conducting life-changing research, assisting Missourians through Extension and creating jobs," System President Mun Choi said in a statement.

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