The undocumented collegian

April 01, 2007

In 1982, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas law aimed at denying children not "legally admitted" to the country a K-12 public education. These youngsters had little control over their immigration status, the court decided, and therefore shouldn't be discriminated against. To allow such a policy, the majority further observed, would surely result in the creation of a permanent, poorly educated underclass that was certain to add to the nation's poverty and crime rates.

For a quarter-century, the Plyler v. Doe decision has made the education of immigrants, regardless of their visa status, a mandate for the states. So the question currently before the Maryland legislature, as Gov. Martin O'Malley recently noted, is whether the state should abandon this population at age 18.

Granting in-state college tuition rates to qualifying young people who were educated in Maryland schools, who live here and pay taxes here, provides a substantial public benefit. It means these youngsters are likely to achieve more with their lives - and contribute more to society.

Mr. O'Malley has promised to sign the legislation, but it's not clear whether he will get the chance. The House passed the measure last week, but the Senate - where a committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday - may not. Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has cited the bill's cost as a significant factor in that decision.

Nonsense. One of the legislature's fiscal analysts points out that the measure is likely to have a modest impact, $350,000 or so in the first year. That's chiefly because of money that would be owed to community colleges, the schools most likely to feel the impact.

Nevertheless, it's understandable that some people would have misgivings about the proposal. It seems at odds with last week's news of 69 people arrested in federal immigration raids and the five-month sentence given a local restaurant owner for knowingly hiring illegal workers.

There's a logic to that - putting pressure on employers might discourage illegal immigration, but it's a poor substitute for fixing the country's broken (and too often irrational) immigration policies. Making it more difficult for the children of such immigrants to earn college degrees, on the other hand, doesn't serve any public purpose.

In reality, the chief obstacle to Senate approval is that too many Marylanders don't understand the reality of immigration. Texas does. Instead of cutting off state funds for education, Texas is one of 10 states that offer in-state tuition to their residents without regard to immigration status. Maryland, which proudly advertises its knowledge-based economy, ought to follow suit.

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