Sen. Nelson stands by principles on tuition bill

By Observer editorial April 06, 2011 04:25 pm
America is divided on a lot of issues these days, but few issues seem to generate as much emotion as those that deal with illegal immigrants. State Sen. David Nelson got a dose of the political heat recently with his support of Senate Bill 742, which would allow the children of illegal immigrants who have lived in Oregon for some time to pay in-state tuition rates at state universities. Ten other states, including Washington and California, have passed similar laws.
Nelson backed the bill, which last week passed the Senate by a vote of 18-11 and now moves onto the House. His support for the bill drew vehement and venomous — in fact, downright nasty — responses from a lot of people. But Nelson described his support for the bill as doing the right thing for the children of illegal immigrants — children who have basically grown up in Oregon
and ought to have the incentive to attend college at in-state tuition rates.

SB 742 doesn’t give these students any advantage over citizens, despite the opposition’s claims to the contrary. The students would continue to be ineligible for state and federal scholarships. As the Medford Mail Tribune said, “SB 742 gives away nothing but an opportunity.’’

Qualifying for the in-state rates would only apply to those students who have attended Oregon schools for a minimum of three years. Too, the students would be required to apply for legal residency before becoming eligible. And they would have to be admitted to the university, which means they would have to meet the same standards as all other applicants.

The bill would give these students a chance to earn a college degree — a chance they most likely wouldn’t have if they had to pay out-of-state rates, which can be as much as three times the in-state rate.

The bill is supported by the State Board of Higher Education, state university presidents and various business groups. It’s not expected to result in a major influx of new students. The university system estimates it would amount to from 33 to 39 students a year systemwide.

SB 742 really is about fairness and opportunity. Nelson recognized this and stood by his decision to support the bill. In these days of hot-button issues, none more so than anything dealing with illegal immigrants, that’s not an easy thing to do.

Nelson made a difficult and controversial decision. But it was the right one.