In-State Tuition for Illegal Aliens -- Felonies and False Hopes

By Ronald W. Mortensen on December 1, 2009

Why does Utah, among other states, encourage students who are illegally in the United States to commit multiple, job-related felonies and why does it create false hopes for these young people?

The answer to these questions can be found in Utah's in-state tuition program.

In 2002, the Utah state legislature passed legislation authorizing in-state tuition for illegal aliens with the intent that it would not enter into force until the federal DREAM Act was passed by Congress and signed by the president.

Passage of the DREAM act was critical because it would have made it possible for the children of illegal aliens who graduated from American high schools to gain conditional legal status and for states to extend in-state tuition rates to them.

The students could then have worked legally in the United States in order to earn the money needed to pay their in-state tuition and living expenses and they would have been able to use their degrees to legally get jobs after graduation. After six years, the students would have been eligible for permanent legal status as long as they were of good moral character.

Well, the DREAM Act didn't pass and seven years later, it still hasn't. Therefore, there is no legal way for illegal aliens who choose to attend college to cover their tuition and living expenses by working in the United States since they lack legal status.

In addition, if an illegal alien who entered the United States as a child remains in the United States after reaching his 18th birthday, it is virtually impossible for him to regularize his status, which means that when he earns his college degree he will not be able to legally get a job in the United States. If he does leave the United States, he will not be able to legally return for at least ten years.

In spite of this, Utah's higher education leaders, with the full support of the state's business, religious, political, media, and civic elites, implemented the in-state tuition program, although Sen. Orrin Hatch, sponsor of the federal DREAM Act, had clearly stated: "But the fact of the matter is that cheaper tuition at state schools, no matter how beneficial for these young people, will not solve the larger problem: their illegal immigration status."

So Utah's elites did not solve the larger problem and rather than taking the next step available to them and voluntarily paying for the education and living expenses of the young people they were pretending to help, which would have truly been the compassionate and honorable thing to do, the elites basically told the students to "Get a job (illegally)!"

And that continues to be their position some seven years later: "Get a job (illegally)!"

Little does it matter to the elites that in order to get a job, illegal aliens have to obtain fraudulent documents, perjure themselves on I-9 forms, and under Utah law, commit identity fraud, all felonies.

Little does it matter to the elites that students unlawfully in the U.S. who do work illegally risk being arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, and then deported.

Little does it matter to the elites that they are offering nothing more than false hopes, since illegal aliens are not able to work legally in the United States after they finally obtain their degrees.

So, rather than helping students understand the importance of honesty and integrity, the message the elites chose to send to young people, who frequently come from countries where corruption is rampant, is that it is OK to commit felonies, that the rule of law is fungible, and that it is alright to destroy the lives of other Utah children by using their stolen Social Security numbers to get jobs.

Of course, the elites will never acknowledge the harm that they are doing to these young people and to their hopes for a brighter future. Rather, they continue to tell everyone who will listen just how caring and compassionate they are.

In 2009, when a state legislator brought it to the public's attention that illegal-alien students risked arrest, conviction, incarceration, and deportation by using fraudulent documents and stolen identities to get jobs, the Salt Lake Tribune actually justified the criminal activity: "That's true. But a worse crime would be to penalize hard-working, low-income students who were brought to this country by their parents," said the Tribune writer.

And rather than stepping up and offering to fund the education of these students so they wouldn't have to commit felonies in order to earn money for their tuition, the Alliance for Unity, which includes Utah's most prestigious business, community, and religious leaders, including an Apostle of the very influential Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon), demanded that the legislature keep the in-state tuition program in place.

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Well, the times have changed.

More and more citizens now recognize that a program that encourages felonies and offers false hopes is not a compassionate program. In fact, it is downright mean spirited and cruel.

In addition, the surplus seats at Utah's institutions of higher education that illegal aliens once filled are gone. Now, students legally in the United States can no longer get the courses they need to graduate and the children of Utah taxpayers face the possibility of being denied admittance to the state's taxpayer funded colleges and universities.

If that weren't enough, the years of budget surpluses that subsidized the tuition costs of illegal aliens are gone and Utah's higher education system is now facing a budget shortfall of $60 million.

However, rather than taking a close look at Utah's in-state tuition program, which does such harm to low-income young people and which costs Utah taxpayers over two million dollars per year, Utah's higher education leaders threaten to decrease services to legal residents, eliminate programs, and reduce course availability unless legislators raise taxes.

According to Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, William Sederburg, "Even though this [in-state tuition] program affects only a few hundred [590] students throughout the state, we're supportive of anything that helps students get a higher education who wouldn't otherwise have that opportunity." Commissioner Sederburg could just as well have added, "even if they have to commit crimes to do it" because in this case, "anything" apparently includes the commission of job related felonies.

In 2008, Michael Young, president of the University of Utah, even threatened to take scholarships away from legal residents in order to give them to illegal aliens if the fatally flawed in-state tuition law was rescinded:

"If the bill [abolishing in-state tuition] does pass, Young said it would put the U in a tough position financially because undocumented students are not eligible for federal or state scholarships. He said the U would have to tap into other scholarship funds, which they would be willing to do, but they would essentially have to decide whether to give scholarships to three documented students or one undocumented student."

The president of Utah Valley University told reporters: "We can't continue to grow like this and not receive additional funding and still provide a quality education." But his university can still afford to host 30 percent of the state's illegal alien students at a cost of over $700,000 per year to the taxpayers.

The Friends of Utah Higher Education, a business-backed group, is reportedly considering a campaign to push for higher income taxes to fund higher education activities, including the terribly flawed in-state tuition program for illegal aliens.

Of course, this is not all that surprising since Utah's business elite have been among the strongest supporters of in-state tuition for illegal aliens. After all, many Utah businesses are illegally employing the parents of these students.

Furthermore, since taxpayers are already footing the public education bill for the children of their illegal alien employees who are committing job-related felonies, it is only natural that businesses would demand that taxpayers subsidize the college education of their employees' children, who are also committing job-related felonies to cover their tuition costs.

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So, there you have it. Utah's education, media, religious, political, and business elite aren't even considering trying to find a solution to a misguided and cruel in-state tuition program that teaches young people that it is alright to commit felonies.

If these elites were really concerned about illegal alien students, they would support the immediate suspension of this program with its incentives to commit job-related felonies until such time as the DREAM Act passes, if ever.

If they really wanted the children of illegal aliens to get a college education and to protect the students' "good moral character," they would step up and cover the students' non-resident tuition and living expenses rather than continuing to encourage the commission of felonies and demanding that taxpayers subsidize this criminal activity.

Perhaps Utah's university and college presidents could donate a portion of their taxpayer funded salaries to help illegal alien students pay their in-state tuition and to understand that it is not acceptable to commit felonies, even if the money is used to pay for an education.

Maybe the state's religious leaders could teach their illegal alien members that the commission of job-related crimes is not consistent with religious teachings or an honorable life. Bishops, priests and pastors could show true compassion by asking their flocks to cover the living and educational costs of all of their church members who are illegally in the United States so they wouldn't have to commit felonies and risk arrest in order to illegally get jobs.

And maybe the businessmen who are pushing for higher taxes for public education could donate some of the profits derived from illegal labor to cover the non-resident tuition of illegal aliens, rather than continuing to encourage criminal activity and shifting the costs to the citizens of Utah.

It's time that states with in-state tuition laws acknowledge that the DREAM Act did not pass. It is also time for all of those who support in-state tuition to acknowledge that they have to stop encouraging thousands of vulnerable young people to commit felonies. And finally, it is time that in-state tuition advocates show compassion for the victims of illegal alien driven identity theft as well as concern for the taxpayers who are being forced to subsidize these criminal activities.