Immigrant Tuition To Face Challenge
KU, K-State students recruited to join group’s class-action suit
Terry Rombeck, Journal-World (KA), May 25
A national organization is set to challenge Kansas’ new immigrant tuition law in federal court.
The Federation for American Immigration Reform plans to file a lawsuit challenging the law, which will allow some illegal immigrants to pay resident tuition rates at Kansas colleges and universities.
“I’m totally opposed to rewarding people who’ve broken our laws,” said Susan Tully, the federation’s Midwest field director. “It’s a slap in the face to people who are here legally.”
The federation claims the policy violates federal law and is discriminatory to non-Kansans, who pay a significantly higher tuition rate. Proposed in-state tuition at Kansas University is $2,081.25 for a 15-credit-hour semester this fall, compared with $6,058.50 for out-of-state tuition.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Sue Storm, D-Overland Park, was approved by both houses of the Legislature late in the session after much debate. Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed it into law last week, and it will take effect July 1.
What the law does
The new law gives in-state benefits to illegal immigrants who attended a Kansas high school for at least three years and graduated or earned a general educational development certificate in Kansas. Immigrants also have to actively be seeking legal immigrant status or plan to do so when they are eligible.
Tully said the federation had identified dozens of potential plaintiffs, which she said was enough to give the challenge class-action status. The organization solicited plaintiffs — all students from out of state attending Kansas universities — by running advertisements earlier this month in the University Daily Kansan and The Collegian, the campus newspapers at KU and Kansas State University.
Tully said the federation, which is based in Washington, D.C., had hired an attorney in Kansas to handle the case. She declined to identify the attorney until the suit is filed, which probably will occur within a few weeks.
Kansas a test case
Kansas is the eighth state to pass a law giving illegal immigrants in-state tuition. Tully said the lawsuit would be a test case for similar laws in other states.
She said offering “giveaway programs for illegal aliens” could amount to giving price breaks to educate future terrorists.
“The truth is, after 9-11 you don’t have homeland security until you secure the homeland,” Tully said. “There are somewhere between 10 (million) and 13 million illegal aliens in this country, and we have no idea who they are. To sit and think those are just people who came here to get jobs is just naive.”
Matt All, chief counsel for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, said the state would defend the law if challenged.
He said federal law prevented states from providing benefits to illegal aliens based on residency in a state. But the immigrant tuition law specifically provides the benefit to those who attended Kansas high schools or received a GED in Kansas, a wording difference that All said would make the law stand up to scrutiny.
’Doesn’t make sense’
“The governor’s main objective is to make sure Kansas high school students have opportunities to advance themselves at Kansas universities, community colleges and technical colleges,” All said. “A lot of folks we’re talking about here are not new to the country. Some of them have been here since they were toddlers. They’ve been treated as residents their whole life, so it doesn’t make sense when they turn 18 for them not to be treated like citizens.”
House Speaker Doug Mays, a Topeka Republican who opposed the measure, said he thought it was possible an illegal immigrant could graduate from a Kansas high school, move to another state and still be eligible for Kansas in-state tuition rates.
“That would fall under what we call the law of unintended consequences,” Mays said. “I don’t think that was considered when this bill was put together.”