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HOW SHE SEES IT Kansas, Texas harassed for doing right



Published: Fri, August 19, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



By MARY SANCHEZ

KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS

Unruly children know the drill. When Mom says no, run to Dad. Play one off the other. Hope they don't confer and realize they are being punked.

The same theory is being tried by groups opposed to some immigrant children getting a college education.

Kansas is Mom. Texas is Dad.

Both states have addressed one of the saddest situations of our out-of-wack immigration policies; the children of illegal immigrants.

The states are being badgered -- Kansas through the courts and now Texas through a federally filed complaint -- for doing the right thing.

At issue are the kids whose parents brought them to the United States without the necessary paperwork. These children didn't decide to be illegally in the country. Some of them didn't even know they were illegal until they graduated from high school and found they didn't have a valid Social Security number.

Many think of themselves as more American than foreign. They graduated from U.S. high schools, have the grades to enter college and scraped together enough money to pay their tuition.

Nine states -- including Kansas and Texas -- have addressed their plight. In these states such students can pay in-state tuition fees instead of the often three-times-higher out-of-state rates a foreign person would pay.

That makes sense.

The kids and their parents have been here for years; long enough to have paid property and sales taxes into the communities where they want to attend college. Many of the state laws are written so that the kids meet higher standards than U.S.-born children must to get the in-state tuition rates.

In Kansas, for example, the children must have lived in the state for three years and promise to apply for legal status if the government ever makes it possible; a whole other complicated issue of immigration reform.

Which brings this back to those crying to Mom and then Dad.

Kansas' law was challenged by a Washington-based group called FAIR, Federation for American Immigration Reform. A federal judge threw the suit out this summer.

No harm

He found no harm had been done. The out-of-state students on whose behalf the suit was brought actually have an easier route to gaining in-state tuition. They can get it after living in the state for only one year, six months in the case of some community colleges.

So now Texas is being challenged.

The Washington Legal Foundation is making the same legal argument, against the same group of kids, but in a different state. In early August, the foundation filed a complaint through the Department of Homeland Security. The complaint basically admits the thinking; citing the failed attempt in Kansas.

What never changes are the basic facts. These students exemplify what most Americans say they expect from immigrants. They work hard. They pay their own way. They have mastered English. They want to better themselves and contribute to their communities as educated professionals.

Unfortunately, these students are also easy targets. Trapped by the "illegal" label, they are ripe for portrayal as getting something for nothing, of cheating the system, of taking things that U.S. citizens cannot get.

All of this is untrue.

FAIR and the Washington Legal Foundation want to sound like they are genuinely concerned about badly needed immigration reforms. If that was true they would be pressuring Congress to take a hard look at the economics and demographics of the country.

They'd address foreign terrorism scares without ratcheting up unfounded fears. They'd admit that if the labor market can truly absorb a lot of low wage labor; that indicates a need for legal channels for such labor.

But those conversations are not sexy. They do not appeal to people who want to sound "tough on immigration," or "protecting our borders." Instead, these organizations are casting childish, costly legal challenges.

X Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune.




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