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Rell vetoes in-state tuition rates for illegal immigrant kids

HARTFORD, Conn. --Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Tuesday vetoed a bill that would have extended favorable in-state tuition rates at Connecticut's public colleges and universities to children of illegal immigrants.

While Rell said she is sympathetic to the plight of the students, she said they are living in the U.S. illegally and she does not want to encourage people to circumvent federal immigration laws.

"I understand these students are not responsible for their undocumented status, having come to the U.S. with their parents," Rell said in a written statement. "The fact remains, however, that these students and their parents are here illegally and neither sympathy nor good intentions can ameliorate that fact."

The bill passed the Senate 21-15 and the House of Representatives 77-68, making it doubtful the Democratic majority will attempt to override the veto.

Rep. Felipe Reinoso, D-Bridgeport, a Peruvian immigrant who sponsored the bill, said he had held out hope that Rell would sign the proposal into law.

"I feel sad -- deeply, deeply disappointed," said Reinoso, who estimated the bill would have helped about 200 to 250 students. "The kids are paying the consequences."

Rell said the legislation does not address the fact that the students are not legal residents.

"The requirement that students file an application to legalize their status, would in essence, be notification to the government that they are here illegally and it would greatly increase the likelihood that they would be deported," Rell said. In her veto letter, the governor said the legislation could encourage more undocumented aliens to move to the state.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said the legislation requires a student to have lived in the state and graduated from a Connecticut high school.

"We're not talking about somebody who just got off a bus and popped into the state without legal status and now wants some benefit," he said. "We're talking about someone who has made a commitment to the state."

Reinoso said many families have applied for citizenship, but it often takes anywhere from five to 10 years to get approval.

Sen. Dan Debicella, R-Shelton, successfully ran out the clock when the bill came up for debate in the legislature's Higher Education Committee, killing the proposal. But the legislation was resurrected later in the session.

The freshman senator said his heart goes out to the families trying to educate their children, but he believes it would be unfair to legal immigrants and middle class residents if in-state tuition rates were granted to undocumented students.

"The answer is to reform the federal laws to make it easier for hardworking committed immigrants to earn legal residency," Debicella said.

Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, praised Rell for taking a risk with her veto.

"Gov. Rell showed great political courage when she vetoed a bill that has garnered editorial support from several Connecticut newspapers that will be denouncing her decision over the next few days," he said. "Gov. Rell did not take the politically correct action today, but she did the right thing -- and I commend her for it."

A 1996 federal law sought to prevent states from granting in-state tuition benefits to unauthorized immigrant students. Since then, 10 states have passed legislation to allow students who have lived in their states for a long time to be eligible for the tuition break if they meet certain requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The states include California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Reinoso said he's not giving up and plans to reintroduce the bill next year.

"It is in my heart, that bill," he said. "You cannot ignore kids. They're not invisible. This is the reality in our country and our state now."

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