On Illegal Aliens and Foreign Students

By Dan Cadman on June 13, 2016

Mayte Lara, an illegal alien residing in Texas, caused a minor firestorm when she went to cyberspace on the occasion of her graduation to "out" herself for her lack of status, while at the same time complimenting her own legs and mentioning her valedictory status. That's a veritable grab-bag of things to include in a tweet limited to 140 characters.

That this young lady felt free to announce herself isn't really much of an exercise in boldness given the state of disrepair that exists in immigration enforcement after seven-plus years of the Obama administration. Even so, some people lauded her; and many others were angry that she apparently will be attending the University of Texas tuition-free. This does raise the question of whether her tuition-free status was an appropriate expenditure of taxpayer monies.

Another, slightly less obvious, question is: What is the appropriate moral balance between dispossessing someone who is clearly bright (if not necessarily always using the best judgment or taste in her tweets) vs. a citizen or lawful resident? There are, after all, only so many openings available to students at any university, including UT.

Finally, to circle back, there is the question of what the federal government's response should be toward post-secondary education institutions that give favor to illegal aliens as students — either through free education or via in-state tuition discounts. After all, millions of dollars pour out of the federal government in various ways to colleges and universities large and small, public and private. The Supreme Court ruled long ago that children who are illegally in the United States have the right to public education, but this stops at high school graduation. It doesn't extend to anything further.

Even more curious is the oddly schizophrenic approach of the federal government toward post-secondary institutions accepting foreign students. There is a whole regimen of rules and regulations; there is a particular control apparatus called the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) to oversee those regulations; there is an electronic system in mandatory use by schools that officials in the SEVP use to monitor foreign students' attendance at the institutions; and, singularly, each and every institution proposing to accept foreign students must receive approval from the federal government to issue the forms that prospective students bring to consular officers to seek student visas.

But what is the point of that whole regimen if the government doesn't really care when such students overstay or violate their status by quitting school, and expends virtually no time or effort to find them? ("If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it's just highly unlikely to happen," — John Sandweg, until recently the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.)

And why make schools go through the approval process with the implicit (but mostly empty) threat of sanctions for failure to abide by the rules if the federal government is indifferent when they are willing to enroll students who never had a visa of any type, but came here after crossing the border without inspection?

Putting aside the wisdom or propriety of sanctioning secondary institutions that accept illegal aliens by withholding federal grants and student loans — a powerful incentive if ever there was one — there is an alternative, even easier solution: Make an institution's right to enroll foreign students and exchange visitors incumbent on exercising due diligence by taking reasonable and appropriate steps to screen out aliens who have no status, and revoke the approval when an institution shows itself willing to abet flouting of the immigration laws in flagrant fashion.

This would hit the institutions where it hurts most: the pocketbook. The yearly tuition costs and fees that they take in from foreign students are huge, and the loss would in many, perhaps most, instances be unacceptably large. So would the loss in prestige. Boards and regents would react quickly and promptly — probably first by trying to exert political pressure to avoid the revocation, but were the federal government to hold firm, then almost certainly by directing school administrators to amend their policies and admission procedures.

Of course no such thing will ever come to pass if we get a "third" Obama term. What happens in the upcoming election is of great moment to the American people, and its ramifications will extend long past the nominal four years of whoever is the next president.