Goedde refuses hearing on in-state tuition for undocumented

BOISE – A group of student activists and immigrant advocates had lawmakers squirming briefly Wednesday as they stood outside the Senate chamber waiting for a chance to speak to the chairman of the Education Committee.

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Students and activists stand outside the Senate chamber
hoping to deliver 500+ petitions to Sen. John Goedde

Sen. John Goedde, a Coeur d’Alene Republican, is holding a bill in his committee that would allow Idaho high school graduates to pay in-state college tuition regardless of their immigration status. The group of students, advocates and educators want a committee hearing on the bill, Senate Bill 1427.

“We need to take young people out of the politics of immigration and do right by them,” said Taryn Magrini a lobbyist for the Idaho Women’s Network.

After a brief rally outside the Capitol Annex, the group attempted to deliver more than 500 petitions to Goedde’s office. But the Senate was still in session, so the activists moved to the third floor and waited outside the chamber, drawing extra security and a visit from Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, who recommended going back down to Goedde’s office.

Five hundred to 900 undocumented students graduate from Idaho high schools each year, according to the Idaho Community Action Network, the main group behind the Idaho Student Investment Act. But many cannot afford out-of-state tuition. The bill would make any student who has lived in Idaho for three years and graduated from an Idaho school eligible for in-state tuition. It would also require students who cannot show legal presence to certify that they have applied or will soon apply for legal status.

Sen. Gary Schroeder, a Moscow Republican introduced the bill earlier this year. Schroeder says it’s about tuition, not immigration.

“It appears to me that we have a double standard if we allow them to go to Idaho high schools and graduate and then declare them to be nonresident,” Schroeder said.

Goedde said he has emailed representatives of the Community Action Network and that he does not intend to hold a hearing on the bill because it has been challenged in other states for being discriminatory to out-of-state students.

Ten other states with large immigrant populations offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. Goedde requested a letter from Idaho Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey L. Schrader that pointed to legal challenges lodged against similar bills in California and Kansas.

FAIR, an anti-immigrant group brought both suits on behalf of out-of-state students who claimed they were being discriminated against by not getting the same privileges as undocumented students. Schrader repeats the arguments made by FAIR, which were rejected by both district courts.

“In summary, the federal statutes identified herein are complicated and the issue is controversial,” Schrader wrote. “…although there are lawsuits pending, there is no case precedent to rely on as guidance regarding the lawfulness of any state statutes authorizing in-state tuition for students who are not in the United States lawfully.”

Goedde interpreted the attorney general’s letter as indication that the Student Investment Act would not hold up in court. He said that the Idaho Legislature passed a bill last year denying health and welfare benefits to “illegals” and this year a bill limiting access to drivers’ licenses for immigrants has passed.

In that it seems to offer a public benefit to undocumented students, Goedde said “this is clearly not in conformance with either of those bills.”

The state subsidizes in-state tuitions, Goedde argues, and just because a young person did not necessarily decide to cross the borders on their own does not entitle them to a public benefit.

“That doesn’t give them any right to demand additional tax benefits,” Goedde said.

While the state does subsidize in-state tuition, paying for a college education is not generally considered a public benefit, according to at least one California legal opinion.

Advocates also reason that by making college more affordable, people that otherwise would not have attended will sign up, thus adding into the schools’ coffers. And out-of-state students that want to pay in-state tuition only have to live in Idaho for one year, while in-state undocumented students will have to prove a three year residency.

Schroeder intends to send Goedde a formal letter requesting a hearing.

Though the students that delivered petitions to the Statehouse considered storming in on the session to confront Goedde, they decided to leave the letter on his desk and continue to apply pressure to gain a hearing.

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