(KCPW News) A bill that would prohibit illegal immigrants who are allowed to pay less expensive in-state tuition from working in the state was the subject of a heated debate yesterday on Capitol Hill, before it failed to pass. KCPW's Faroe Robinson reports.
The bill failed by a close 34-to 40-vote. It will not be considered again this session.
Bill sponsor Representative Richard Greenwood said the purpose of the bill is to prevent illegal immigrants from committing crimes. He feels illegal immigrants who are attending college and working illegally may not understand the consequences of forging a Social Security Card or stealing someone's identity. His bill would require students to sign a form stating they have not been employed for a year in order to be eligible to receive in-state tuition. But Representative Trisha Beck said illegal immigrant students can't afford to pay for college, and only 29 of the approximately 200 students receive any kind of scholarship.
"These students want to become contributing members of society. They want to provide a way for themselves to become self-reliant. We who have promoted the importance of a good education are depriving these students from the opportunity of meeting their dreams," Beck said.
Representative Kay McIff went further, comparing the situation to the 1960s, when colleges closed their doors to African Americans.
"Whatever the purpose of the bill is, the actual impact of this bill will be to narrow the opening of the schoolhouse doors. I ask the members of our body to think of any culture that has benefited from narrowing the opening of the schoolhouse doors," McIff said.
McIff noted that students must complete three years of high school in Utah to be eligible for in-state tuition, and said the bill would prevent them from completing their education and force them to become a burden on society. However, Representative Stephen Sandstrom said the bill isn't about education.
"This is not an issue about barring anyone from a university. It's about stopping people from committing a felony. If you work in the state, and you're here illegally, you have to falsify a social security number, you have to steal someone's identity, or be paid under the table. Are we going to turn our heads to commission of a felony," Sandstrom said.
Greenwood said 75 percent of the illegal immigrants who enter the U.S. use stolen IDs, and 50,000 Utah children are victims of job-related identity theft every year. He then encouraged lawmakers who opposed the bill to think about how they would feel if their own identities were stolen. He said the bill is about preventing those crimes.
"Here we have laws on the books that says you cannot use someone else's Social Security number. And what I am hearing here is obey the law, but on this one don't obey it. That is offensive to me. I do have sympathy for these people, I do believe that they are in a bad situation, but I also believe in the rule of law," Greenwood said.
Greenwood noted that illegal immigrants can't become legal if they have committed a felony, and said this would help them become upstanding citizens.