Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Instate Tuition for Illegal Immigrants: Gazette Column 1

Within two weeks of being elected, Governor Patrick resurrected a proposal for instate tuition for illegal immigrants. With a taxpayer subsidy of $9,000 per year at current charges for in-state versus out-of-state tuition, and a recent estimate of 500 eligible students, this would amount to 18 million dollars of taxpayer dollars over four years at a time when both the state and UMass budgets are under tremendous pressure. Just last month UMass Amherst announced an 8% budget shortfall for the next fiscal year and is hoping for more out of state students to make up the difference. With a faltering economy, the taxpayers of Massachusetts are hurting. It is no surprise that Governor Patrick waited until after the election to bring up this idea. This proposal was killed in Massachusetts four years ago, but here it is again. Elections do have consequences.
Why offer this particular benefit for this group? Certainly, more basic entitlements that could be given to illegal immigrants are beyond the limits that are acceptable to taxpayers. We are not providing taxpayer supported housing. We are not providing healthcare insurance or food stamps, or subsidies for heating costs. As the parents of these students are illegally in this country and therefore are likely to have little reportable income, will we then be extending further financial aid beyond the in state tuition break to these families to help them afford four years of education? Where does it end?
Implicit in this proposal is that the children of illegal immigrants who reside in Massachusetts are more valued by the people of Massachusetts than the children of fellow American citizens who happen to reside outside the state. Geography trumps citizenship as the out of state American family is not offered this same taxpayer generosity of the lower tuition. If these children are to be the responsibility of the taxpayers of their state of origin who should bear this financial burden, then the same argument can be made for the children of illegal immigrants extending to their nation of origin. It is very possible that the American children from other states are also poor and are in need of access to affordable higher education as they may come from states without state university systems. We are all descended from immigrants, and it is not the fault of these children that they were brought here illegally. Given the enormous price of higher education in the U.S., it is not the fault of out of state American families that they are also looking for relief from the burden of the costs of educating their children. The taxpayers of Massachusetts are being positioned to extend our hand preferentially to the families that are here illegally.
We must consider the issue of fairness to the Massachusetts taxpaying family. The cost of educating their children is one of the greatest financial difficulties faced by most families. There are no tax breaks for families that must shoulder costs that now exceed 50,000$ each year for a private college education. As the money for the in-state tuition subsidy for children of illegal immigrants comes from taxpayer dollars, we should consider the need for relief of Massachusetts families as their tax dollars are subsidizing this new entitlement. Perhaps this proposal should be coupled with tax deductions for education costs for residents of Massachusetts, though I have no doubt that the Governor would scream that this loss of revenue is not affordable.
Offering entitlements to illegal immigrants incentivizes their setting up residence in Massachusetts, and the taxpayers of this state must recognize that there are costs associated with this. It costs taxpayer dollars for the public education of these children, and medical costs that are not reimbursed become a taxpayer liability. There is the loss of tax revenues by economic activity that is driven underground. The underground economy is even now a great problem in Massachusetts. In my recent Congressional campaign through Southern Massachusetts, I heard from builders and contractors throughout the region that they are losing income and are having their businesses threatened by illegal immigrants from Brazil who are living in Massachusetts and are working off the books. This shift of economic activity is hidden from taxes.
No one wants to seem inhospitable to immigrant families seeking a better life, but preferential treatment of foreign nationals that break our immigration laws over fellow American citizens is problematic. The pressures of a troubled economy and the difficulties of our taxpaying families should be first to get our attention.