SALEM — Legislation to allow illegal immigrants from Oregon high schools to pay in-state tuition rates will get another try in the 2013 legislative session, with one backer predicting it has a good chance of passing after failing in previous sessions.
Democrats have gained control of both chambers of the Legislature, and Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber has become outspoken about it, signaling his support in a speech last week, The Bend Bulletin reports.
"It is time to get it done," said Tim Raphael, the governor's spokesman.
A former Republican legislator who supported a "tuition equality" bill in 2011 said he's encouraged that Kitzhaber is getting behind the idea early on.
"I think it has a wonderful chance of passing this time," said Frank Morse of Albany, who recently retired from the Senate. Morse voted against tuition equality in 2008 but changed his mind, arguing it doesn't make sense to deny the students the opportunity to help "improve the welfare of our state."
The 2011 bill would have allowed illegal immigrants attending high school in Oregon for at least three years to qualify for in-state tuition at state universities. It would have required that students intend to become citizens.
Students who live in Oregon illegally are considered out-of-state residents, so, for example, they would pay about $20,000 more per year at the University of Oregon than in-state students pay.
Federal law requires that children in the U.S. be educated from kindergarten through 12th grade. Students may not legally be asked their immigration status, so estimating how many illegal-immigrant students are in the school system is difficult.
In the last election, Democrats retained a majority in the state Senate and regained a majority in the House after sharing power with Republicans in the last session. The speaker to be, Rep. Tina Kotek of Portland, is on is on record in support.
House Republican Leader-elect Mike McLane of Powell Butte, was more cautious, in part because specific legislation has yet to be unveiled.
"Our high school graduates deserve opportunities for employment and higher education," he said in an email. But, he warned, the state should move cautiously and avoid unintended consequences.
Republican Rep. Jason Conger of Bend said tuition equity fails to address the larger problem of immigration reform and said that even if the students graduate, they could not be legally hired. He called it shallow to "saddle them with whatever (it) costs to go to college and then say, 'Sorry, your dream is limited to higher education and no career.' "