Sunday, January 06, 2008

11. Shooting themselves in the foot...

Kansas passed a great law a few years ago that would allow students who came over without documentation with their parents as children to get in-state tuition at a Kansas Regents university or community college if (1) they attended a KS high school for at least 3 years and (2) they maintained a B grade average. Now, this doesn't actually give them any scholarship or grant money, they just have to pay in-state tuition like anybody else would who meets those criteria. (Actually, you only have to live in KS a year before enrolling to become eligible for in-state tuition, so this law actually creates a higher bar for undocumented students to become eligible.)

The anti-immigrant types have been after this law for years. Kris Kobach, while running for Congress on an anti-immigrant platform against Dennis Moore in 2004, was hired by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (an anti-immigrant group with the not-just-a-little-ironic acronym "FAIR") to sue the state on behalf of US Citizen out-of-state students. Of course, first they had to find some students willing to be named in the lawsuit, since there really weren't any complaining to begin with. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed due to "lack of standing," which essentially means that a plaintiff can't maintain a lawsuit if they are not personally being harmed. (For example, I can't sue Donald Rumsfeld for the war in Iraq just because I'm a taxpayer annoyed at having my tax dollars being spent overseas, etc.)

Moore beat Kobach handily, winning Johnson County outright for the first time in his congressional career. Despite this obvious rebuke on both the legal and political levels, the anti-immigrant types still flock to Kobach and about a year ago that part of the conservative wing of the Kansas GOP got him elected as State party chair.

Of course, as a Democrat, I'm just tickled. Such Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot, and they will be limping from it for more than a generation to come. Latinos are the fastest growing electoral demographic in the nation, and whatever gains Bush made among them in his two elections have completely evaporated as looney anti-immigrant types like Kobach and Tom Tancredo continue to blast away against them. What these foolish anti-immigrant Republicans don't realize is that there are thousands of mixed-status families in Kansas and America. Along with citizen classmates and friends, we have a generation of new voters who will only remember that it was Republicans who were trying to hurt and destroy their fathers, mothers, friends, and cousins, etc.

As a Kansan and an American, however, such policies are really sad and frightening. I know a lot of young clients who graduate from high school who have spent their whole lives here in Kansas City but can't get a drivers license. Without the promise of something better for their future, what motive does a young undocumented high school student have to learn English, stay in school, work hard and achieve to the best of their ability? Those who do believe that there is a possible benefit for buying into the system and playing by the rules end up being positive and productive members of society, and many find a way to legalize eventually. Those who don't believe they can benefit by buying into the system usually give up on following the rules. Sadly, without any hope of a better tomorrow, that's when I get to meet them as a criminal defense attorney. If young people become a problem for our society, that hurts all of us.

Of course, if you base your policies on the idea that all these new immigrants are lawbreakers and evildoers, then then it comes as no surprise that your prophesy becomes self-fulfilling. However, those of us who actually know some Latinos and recent immigrants know that if given the opportunity, our young people are capable of doing amazing and positive things for our community and our nation. Since they were not adults when they crossed with their parents, they should not be punished for their parents'decisions. Nor should the rest of society be punished by polcies which thwart and squander their potential.

The Kansas In-State Tuition law, and the comparable DREAM Act that was proposed at the federal level, hurts nobody and benefits all of us--unless, of course, you see a new generation of young Latino voters as a threat. I do not, nor should our politicians, nor the American people.

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At 4:16 PM, Blogger Kethryvis said...

Okay I love you to death and always have, but I have a few beefs with your post:

1) The "anti-immigrant" tag. I am far from anti-immigrant... almost all of us are here because our families immigrated here. Plus, my boyfriend is a first generation Indian-American (well, Indian by way of Uganda) as his parents emigrated here in the 70s as political refugees. I tried to emigrate to Canada myself. I tried it legally, and then illegally.

My point is, I am against *illegal* immigration. However, all of us who are are immediately labeled as "anti-immigration" and are seen as xenophobic. Which, for an anthropologist, is pretty impressive ;) So please don't confuse the issue. We are not anti-immigration... we are anti-illegal immigration. There is indeed a huge, huge difference. (and I'm a democrat even!)

2) As I mentioned, I did try to emigrate to Canada, both legally and then illegally. However, as an illegal alien in Canada, I did not demand any sort of privileges... not even a library card. I lived in fear every day I was in Canada, afraid I'd be discovered, terrified of getting sick, but also knew that I didn't have the right to any privileges of that society as I did not belong there in a legal sense.

So after I left Canada and started college, it really upset me when I was applying to colleges and knew that I had to limit myself to California schools because I couldn't afford out of state tuition, and then in that same year I saw my state grant illegal immigrant children the privilege of in-state tuition. I saw that as a gigantic double standard, and as a reward for coming here illegally.

Immigration is damned hard, and the rules are pretty asinine. I think that is the problem with immigration in this country. The rules really need to be changed, and then actually enforced. I think it should be **easier** for people to come here legally. (Is that anti-immigration?)

However, I also think we should not reward people for moving here illegally. They should do it right before they can take advantages of all the rights and privileges the society offers. Is that so wrong?

At 8:55 PM, Blogger Danifesto said...

doh! Keth beat me in commenting on this. Good thoughts Keth! I will say that the Toronto Public Library will give anyone a library card if they can prove they have an address (a mailing can show this).
That aside- it's not like we can send all the illegal immigrants home. Not feasible and it would hurt the economy. It also kills me that Republicans go on and on about illegals when I would bet you 90% have them working in their gardens, kitchens, summer homes, nurseries, whatnot. Hypocritical.

As an immigrant, I went to a lot of money and trouble to immigrate and I don't have very much sympathy for those (and I know them) that are here in Canada illegally and are trying to make a life. That having been said, they probably wouldn't have been allowed to immigrate legally given their work skills, language, etc. Doubtful.
And finally when having this conversation it always feels slightly racist to me. Why is that? Because it's never directed at anyone from Europe or even Africa. Sometimes it's Asia. But the majority of the time it's always one minority group and that makes me a little uncomfy.
Good post though! Yay!

At 8:26 PM, Blogger Abogado David said...


Love the post, lots to respond to! I'll try not to repeat any of the arguments I already stated. And no, I don't consider you to be anti-immigrant, but I will save discussing THAT distinction for my next post. :)

*The Kansas In-State Tuition Law is fair to U.S. Citizen students, both from Kansas and from out-of-state:
As discussed in the main post, in Day v. Sebelius, when the opponents of this law had their one shining chance to show all the harm this law caused to citizen out-of-state students, they couldn't show anything. The 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals found that Plaintiffs showed “[no] evidence of any causal relationship between the tuition cost imposed on Kansas’ public universities by §76-731a and nonresident tuition rates imposed on the Plaintiffs.” Citizens can get in-state residency just from living one year in Kansas, so if a citizen did what one of these students have to do, they'd be eligible for in-state tuition too. Moreover, undocumented students are not eligible for any federal financial aid, so they really only get the opportunity to pay 100% of in-state tuition. No tax money actually gets allocated to these students.

*The Kansas In-State Tuition Law rewards academic achievement and hard work, not undocumented immigration:
As discussed, the students who are eligible under this law were generally brought by their parents to the U.S. when they were children, so they have no voluntary act to punish or reward. This is where they have grown up. This state and this country is all they know. Unlike adults, who can weigh the risks and benefits of their actions, these students had no more choice in the matter than in where they were born or to which parents. And yet, these students already suffer many obstacles to a normal, productive, law-abiding life. Imagine growing up here, but not being able to get a license, not being able to get a checking account, and constantly living in fear of losing your mom or dad or both or being deported yourself. Despite these obstacles, the students who qualify under this law have stayed in school and excelled against remarkable odds.

*The Kansas In-State Tuition Law does not encourage more undocumented immigration:
According to the Boston Globe, in 2005, only 221 such students enrolled in Kansas Regents schools or community colleges out of an estimated undocumented population of 55,000 to 85,000. That same year in California, three years after a similar law took effect, only 357 illegal immigrant students enrolled in the University of California system in 2004-'05. The undocumented population of California at the time was estimated to be 2.4 million. One explanation is that most new immigrants are single males who come to work without their families. The prospect of their children someday getting to go to college and pay in-state tuition (which is still expensive) is far too distant to be an incentive for their decision to come here.

*The Kansas In-State Tuition Law can help reduce high school dropout rates and promote academic success:
Without any hope of further education, many students find no reason to complete high school, much less excel in their studies. High school dropouts make up the vast majority of our incarcerated population. Statistically speaking, college graduates do not. For every undocumented student which succeeds in making it to college, more and more at-risk citizen students can point to their classmates, cousins and siblings as examples of Latino youth who beat the odds and succeeded. This encourages lower dropout rates for all of our students. Moreover, the success of these students under the In-State Tuition law debunks commonly repeated myths, e.g. that today’s new immigrants refuse to learn English, that these immigrants refuse to assimilate, that these immigrants come to break our laws, or that these immigrants will only be a drain on our society.

*The Kansas In-State Tuition Law is not a public benefit or subsidy of undocumented students, but rather an investment in Kansas:
In Kansas, state funding of Regents universities and community colleges are based on fixed line-item allocations in the state budget. In other words, state funding—which now comprises less than fifty percent of a university’s revenue anyway—does not increase with increased student enrollment. (This appears to be different in California, where the state antes up a certain amount for each student.) So, for Kansas, a few hundred more undocumented students paying full in-state tuition will not necessarily cost taxpayers any more, and it will cost universities no more than if the same number of new citizen students from Kansas enrolled. This begins to relate to a larger debate about the declining relative percentage of funding public higher education receives from the state.

If you think of public higher education as a kind of entitlement that only benefits the student, then you will argue that the Kansas In-State Tuition law is an entitlement benefiting undocumented students as well. However, most Kansans and policymakers believe that public higher education is an investment in our people and in our economy. The more highly educated a population is, the more likely it will create businesses and jobs and tax revenues, and this benefits all of us. The reverse is also true. The recent economic transformation of Ireland is an example. By investing in college access and success over the last 15 years, it has moved from being one of Europe’s poorest nations to one of its richest, with unemployment dropping from 20 percent in the 1980s to 5 percent today. Similarly, by expanding access to higher education to an underserved population, the entire state of Kansas benefits.


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