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Patrick to push in-state tuition for immigrants

By Russell Contreras
Associated Press / November 16, 2010

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BOSTON—Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick on Tuesday vowed to adopt the rest of an advisory panel's immigration reform recommendations, including pushing for in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students at state colleges, during his second term.

The Democratic governor made the announcement to cheers at the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition's annual Thanksgiving luncheon. The group's executive director served as co-chair of the advisory panel that made the recommendations.

"Now, as we stand on the threshold of another four years, I want to commit to you that we will implement this report in its entirety, working with you, over the next several years," said Patrick, who received a standing ovation from a hundred or so immigrant advocates on Tuesday.

"I know that embracing newcomers is out of fashion these days. The concerns over illegal immigration have become so shrill that all immigrants get swept up in that emotion," Patrick added. "And I want you to know that you are welcome here in this Commonwealth. This is your Commonwealth. This is your home."

However, the governor did not say specifically how he would implement the recommendations or which ones he would try to adopt first. He said nearly half of the recommendations already have been adopted.

Patrick's comments come just two weeks after he won re-election with large support from the state's immigrant population, which is the seventh largest in the country.

A year ago, the advisory panel released 130 recommendations on possible Massachusetts immigration reforms following public hearings around the state. Its report -- which largely dealt with legal immigrants and refugees -- called for the return of bilingual education, more translators at health centers and a better system to recognize foreign professional degrees.

The report's call for in-state tuition for illegal immigrant students drew fire from critics and local conservative radio talk shows.

Asked by reporters if his plan to implement the rest of the recommendations meant he would push for a state law granting in-state tuition for illegal immigrants, Patrick said Massachusetts would need changes in federal law for that to happen.

"Well, my understanding is ... there is a federal law that is in the way of that, and without a change in the federal law we can't do it on our own," said Patrick, who promised to push for the proposal while running for his first term. "I'd like to see that federal law changed."

However, several states, including California, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin allow undocumented students to attend state colleges at in-state tuition rates. Federal law does not forbid illegal immigrants from attending universities and colleges in the U.S. State laws vary on whether to grant illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates.

Patrick spokesman Kyle Sullivan said the governor wanted to make sure any proposed state law would withstand challenges, which is why he wanted the backing of a federal law.

On Monday, the California Supreme Court ruled that illegal immigrants who meet certain residency requirements are entitled to the same tuition breaks offered to in-state high school students to attend that state's public colleges and universities.

Following Patrick's announcement, House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. called the in-state tuition plan "a ridiculous idea" and said lawmakers should instead be focused on fixing the state's economy.

"Providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants should not be a priority of Gov. Patrick and the fact that it is does not shock me, but it certainly disappoints me," the North Reading Republican said in a statement. "This idea failed miserably in the legislature a few years back and I am confident it will do so again."

Nearly four years ago, Massachusetts House lawmakers soundly rejected a bill that would have allowed illegal immigrants to attend college at in-state tuition rates.

The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation estimated at the time that about 400 to 600 students might enter Massachusetts schools as a result of the bill and that it likely would result in $2.5 million of extra revenue.