HR lawmakers support in-state ‘tuition equity’

“it’s A chance to give back to the community,“ Luis Ortega said of his goal of becoming a lawyer. Ortega, 16, an HRVHS sophomore, speaks on immigration reform Wednesday in the March For One tour visit to Hood River.

Photo by Kirby Neumann-Rea.
“it’s A chance to give back to the community,“ Luis Ortega said of his goal of becoming a lawyer. Ortega, 16, an HRVHS sophomore, speaks on immigration reform Wednesday in the March For One tour visit to Hood River.

Two Hood River-based Republican representatives recently joined forces in an effort to pass a tuition equity bill for undocumented students in Oregon.

Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, co-sponsored House Bill 2787 that asserts certain qualifying undocumented students are entitled to exemption from nonresident tuition and fees at public universities.

The bill also gained a yes vote from Rep. Mark Johnson, R-Hood River, who serves on the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. Johnson and The Dalles Rep. John Huffman (R) voted to approve an amended version of the original bill along with five democrats on the committee. The amended bill passed the House, 38-18, on Feb. 22.

“I support tuition equity for the simple reason that I believe my neighbor’s children should have the same opportunity to better themselves and pursue the promise of the American Dream that my children had,” said Thomsen when asked his rationale for sponsoring the bill.

“I think this bill is a needed step because it’s time to face the reality that exists in our state. We have some very hard working and talented students who are a part of our culture and for whom Oregon is their home,” said Johnson. “They can be more successful personally if they are able to have more affordable access to our higher education system. To the extent that they are able to achieve their potential our state will benefit as well and they will have greater earning ability and be much less likely to need social services from the state.”

On June 15, 2012, the Secretary of Homeland Security announced that certain people who came to the United States as children and meet several key guidelines may request consideration of deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and would then be eligible for work authorization.

Deferred action is a decision to defer, or hold off on, deportation of those eligible undocumented persons but does not confer any legal status.

Additional congressional action would be required to grant legal status to those individuals obtaining deferred action status.

The program is part of a series of steps that DHS has taken to focus its enforcement resources on the removal of individuals who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety.

Johnson went on to say, “Because they don’t have legal residency should not exclude them from these opportunities. Our state invests a great deal in these students to help them be successful during K-12. It only makes sense that we would also provide them with an opportunity to have affordable access to higher education as well.”

The passage of the bill would grant in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who can document three key criteria: Students must have attended school in the country for at least five years; have studied at an Oregon high school for at least three years and graduated or obtained a GED; and be able to show an intention to become a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Specifically, students must show they have applied for the federal deferred action program or provide a statement of intent that the student will seek citizenship as permitted under federal law.

This is not the first time the issue has come before the Oregon legislature. Two similar bills were started in the Senate in 2003 and 2011, but failed when the evenly split House failed to advance them out of committee.

Johnson took the lead in making some amendments to the revised bill which specify certain eligibility criteria for student applicants including language requiring a federal tax identification number, access for veterans, and mandated application to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (see sidebar below).

“I think the bill will have a clear path in the Senate,” said Johnson. “It passed that chamber two years ago and it is a better bill this time.

“I want to add that I think most of us wish the federal government could come up with a comprehensive solution that begins with border security. But rather than simply wait for a federal solution, we must do what we can to address our needs for a more highly trained and educated work force and I believe that HB 2787 can help us achieve that,” added Johnson.

Gov. John Kitzhaber has vowed to sign the bill if it passes in the Senate.

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