Liddick: Still a bad idea: in-state tuition for illegals |

Liddick: Still a bad idea: in-state tuition for illegals

What can we say? Some people just don’t understand that “no” means “no.”

This time the slow-on-the-uptake folks include Colorado state senators Angela Giron and Michael Johnston, who paraded sympathetic teens in front of the cameras at the launch of SB 126, “Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow.” The senators, who either think that “illegal immigrant” and “immigrant” are the same thing or don’t care about the difference, are pushing a rewrite of the failed 2009 effort to provide illegal immigrant children with in-state tuition at Colorado’s universities. And they want you to pay for their attempt to buy the votes of those to whom this erasure the word “illegal” might appeal.

Their tactics are the shopworn emotional appeals to which advocates for illegal immigrants always resort: These are good people who will be irrevocably harmed by our failure to do something.

But there is an alternative explanation: These are good people whose future was betrayed by their parents’ decision to commit an illegal act; their situations are tragic, but not all tragedies require the state to intervene with a solution at public expense.

And this will be expensive. Not only will it increase the student body at state schools while reducing potential income, there will be legal challenges.

The key to understanding this is to realize that the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 does not prohibit giving in-state tuition to illegals, it only prohibits doing so while charging other out-of-state students – including current U.S. citizens – a higher rate. Following is one set of figures illustrating the problem IIRIR causes.

In 2009, about 12,200 of CU-Boulder’s student population was out-of-state. The $65 million loss to Colorado over four years arising from an estimated 1,000 illegal alien high-school graduates receiving in-state tuition pales in comparison to that resulting from having to reduce the $26,000-plus out-of-state tuition paid by those 12,000 students to the $8,400 level for in-state Arts and Sciences students pulling 12 semester-hours. You do the math, and decide whether we can afford to take the hit in the name of saving the future of those who, however appealing, shouldn’t be here to begin with.

We have been assured by SB 126’s sponsors that the bill has been rewritten so that it “may” comply with federal law in addressing this nightmare scenario. They have resorted to the fiction of offering in-state tuition to those who graduate from secondary schools in Colorado and meet certain other requirements; a flimsy proxy to deflect legal challenges, which has survived to date largely on the disinclination of the courts to deal with the conflict between federal and state laws.

The exception is California, where the State Supreme Court declared the “local graduation” rule consistent with the 1996 federal statute.

Supporters of SB 126 should not rejoice overmuch. The decision was breathtakingly flimsy, summed up in the ruling written by Justice Ming Chin: “”It cannot be the case,” he writes, “that states may never give a benefit to unlawful aliens without giving the same benefit to all American citizens.” In other words, the Federal IIRIR statue just can’t be right. Good luck with that when the situation reaches the Supreme Court for adjudication, which it eventually will given the challenges in other states.

Technical legality and budgetary threats aside, is the law a good one? Only if one wants to further blur the line between illegality and legitimacy. I am certain that for some in Colorado’s political class, encouraging future illegal immigration is perfectly acceptable. And if it puts further strain on our already-overpressed budget, well – that’s a small price to pay for the votes this sort of pandering will bring them.

Might I suggest a different solution? Perhaps all those who believe that any illegal alien in Colorado is entitled to a college education on the public dime should establish a fund to pay the difference between resident and out-of state tuition. After all, what’s a few measily tens of millions of dollars a year, compared to the principle involved? I’m sure Tim Gill and Pat Stryker would pony up the money; maybe our very own Jared Polis could kick in a couple of millions. Ms. Giron and Mr Johnson would donate big, I have no doubt; maybe some of the rest of us, too: think of how good it would make you feel about yourselves …

It’s all piffle, of course. As the authors of SB 126 know only too well, pandering and vote-buying are only viable if someone else can be stuck with the bill. And if you want to know whose pocket they intend to pick, look in the mirror.

Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. E-mail him at Also, comment on this column at

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