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States move against in-state tuition for illegal immigrants

In recent years, states have barred undocumented students from getting the lower tuition fees.

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"Our current immigration laws prevent thousands of young people from pursuing their dreams and fully contributing to our nation's future," Durbin said in a statement. "These young people have lived in this country for most of their lives. It is the only home they know. They are American in every sense except their technical legal status."

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But variations of this federal bill have been rejected before, with opponents charging that the measures amount to amnesty that rewards illegal behavior and encourages illegal immigration.

"These bills have not sat well with average middle-class taxpayers in this country, given the fact that every state university in the country is in trouble," says Mr. Mehlman.

However, the 10 states that have allowed undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition have "not experienced a large influx that 'displaces' native-born students or added financial burdens to their educational systems," says one study. The 2007 report by the research arm of the American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF) also said that education would help these undocumented students pay more in taxes.

Some states – Connecticut, Missouri, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island – recently have proposed laws to give in-state tuition to undocumented students. Colorado also is pondering reversing its ban.

The Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC) said it is stepping up its campaign to halt the bills in these states. The group, which has stopped such bills before, shows polls to lawmakers indicating that 80 percent of respondents oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

It also uses a network of Internet bloggers and radio talk shows to keep the issue alive. "If enough people are informed about these bills before they pass, a backlash is created which makes them fail," says William Gheen, president of ALIPAC.

California's dream act

The debate over undocumented students extends beyond tuition fees. In California, where illegal immigrants are allowed to pay in-state rates, a separate bill on financial aid was introduced recently by state Sen. Gil Cedillo (D) of Los Angeles.

The so-called California Dream Act would allow undocumented students to compete for financial aid at public colleges and universities in the state. About 25,000 undocumented students graduate from California high schools every year, according to Senator Cedillo's office.

The bill has passed the Legislature three times before but has been vetoed by the governor each time, says Cedillo's office.

Myrna Ortiz, a sophomore at UCLA who came to the US from Mexico as a child, is one student who would benefit from Cedillo's bill. She was forced to take the winter quarter off after running out of money. Her father is a mechanic, her mother a volunteer, and her undocumented status means she can't find work easily. She has an internship with a local immigrant-rights group, but that doesn't pay much either.

"We've been here our whole lives, and all we want to do is contribute back," says Ms. Ortiz.

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