GOP decides it won't deny college aid to legal aliens But proposal would limit, even deny, other funds immigrants now receive


WASHINGTON -- Republicans in Congress have abandoned a plan to deny federal higher education aid to lawful immigrants, but still want to limit access to the Head Start program for the youngest legal aliens.

Republican welfare legislation would limit, and in some instances deny, the right of aliens lawfully in this country to receive most kinds of federal aid, including food stamps, Medicaid and short-term child welfare.

But after protests from spokesmen for colleges and universities, who insisted that education was not welfare, a House-Senate conference committee decided last week to drop the proposed ban on immigrants' receiving Pell grants, which provide scholarship aid to college students, and federal student loans.

The conference members did decide to require that immigrants have a citizen co-sign their student loans, a regulation not imposed on students who are citizens.

President Clinton's aides have said he will veto the welfare bill because of other aspects, in particular reductions in spending for child nutrition and aid to the disabled, and because of provisions for maintaining state spending that he considers weak.

But the issue of education aid will not go away. The measure is also part of the big budget reconciliation bill.

Mr. Clinton has promised to negotiate with Republican leaders over a long list of issues in that measure. When they start talking, the Republicans' welfare bill, with its language on education for legal immigrants, will be the starting point.

Colleges and universities in states with large numbers of immigrants, especially California, Florida and New York, put pressure on the welfare conferees to drop the limits, which they feared would cost them students.

Republican Rep. Clay Shaw of Florida took the leading role in the House-Senate conference to eliminate the proposed ban on Pell grants for legal immigrants. He said in a statement last week that he did so because education, "unlike welfare, is a part of the American dream."

He said, "Education is a fundamental tool for being successful, and everyone should have equal access to it."

Jay Hershenson, vice chancellor for university relations at the City University of New York, where about 40,000 immigrant students receive Pell grants, said, that "we were encouraged" by the change.

But the new requirement for co-signers on loans troubled him.

"The bottom line is the torch of the Statue of Liberty is still shining," he said, "but it's beginning to dim, because these students will soon find a new barrier to access that never existed before, not as high as the other one, but certainly there."

He said 7,000 legal immigrants now received federal loans.

There was little organized pressure over the issue of Head Start, the preschool program.

The Senate version of the bill had allowed legal immigrant children to be eligible, while the House of Representatives version had not.

The conferees agreed that these children could take part in Head Start. However, the committee members also said that the children's access should be restricted by counting not only their parents' income but the income of whoever sponsored them as immigrants, in determining whether they were poor enough to be eligible.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who has been the most constant critic of the welfare legislation, said: "We are expected to be so pleased that legal aliens are no longer to be denied what has always been their right, that we won't notice that the important entitlement of Head Start has been taken away. The one consistent fact is that everything in this legislation hurts children."

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