TOPEKA — Secretary of State Kris Kobach told a House committee today that letting undocumented students attend Kansas colleges on in-state tuition does them a disservice because they can’t legally stay and work after they graduate — and staying too long pushes them back 10 years from legal residency.
But in the audience at the hearing were two young women who did exactly what Kobach said they couldn’t do. Both graduated from state universities and became legal, working residents of the United States and Kansas.
The hearing at the Federal and State Affairs committee was on House Bill 2006. It would repeal a 2004 law that allows undocumented students to qualify for resident tuition to attend state universities, community colleges and trade schools, if they attended high school in Kansas for three years and earned a diploma or GED.
Today’s portion of the hearing was for repeal proponents to make their case. Wednesday, opponents will get their chance to argue against the change.
The hearing featured testimony from several witnesses and anti-illegal immigration advocates, including Rep. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, who is sponsoring the bill, and former Rep. Lynne Ohara of Uniontown.
Although he was speaking as a private citizen and not in his capacity as Secretary of State, Kobach, a longtime activist against illegal immigration, was clearly the star witness for the proponents. He has attained national celebrity as co-author of Arizona’s immigration law, the nation’s strictest.
He told the committee that the major reason to repeal the tuition law is “current Kansas law is in violation of federal law.”
Kobach said federal law bans tuition subsidies for illegal aliens that aren’t available to citizens and legal residents.
He said in-state tuition is a subsidy and to legally provide it to people who are in Kansas in violation of immigration law, “You’ve got to kill the golden goose. You have to have every US citizen eligible for in-state tuition.”
Kobach conceded that none of the nine similar laws in other states have been invalidated by courts. In several states, including Kansas, federal courts have dismissed challenges from citizen students, ruling they don’t have legal standing to sue to overturn the laws.
Kobach said a California appeals court ruled against in-state tuition for illegal immigrants in a suit brought under state law, but was reversed by the state Supreme Court. He said several more suits are underway and he believes a state challenge will eventually succeed.
Kobach also testified that in-state tuition “harms its intended beneficiaries,” by giving undocumented students an incentive to stay in the United States illegally.
He said if they are unlawfully present in the country for 12 months past the age of 18, which they’d need to be to earn a degree, they would be barred from attaining legal status for 10 years.
And when they graduate, they’d be unable to prove legal residency and could only get menial jobs.
“There is no avenue for someone to become legal” if they are illegally in the United States, he said.
But in the audience at today’s hearing were two young women from the Kansas City area who both came to the country illegally, graduated from state universities and have now become legal residents.
Alaide Vilchis and Andrea Pardo-Spalding, both 24, came to the United States as 14-year-olds. Vilchis went on to graduate from the University of Kansas and Pardo-Spalding, from Kansas State.
They both met and married U.S. citizens while attending college and are now legal residents on a path to citizenship, they said.
Vilchis works as a medical assistant and is applying for graduate school. Pardo-Spalding runs a home-based design business.
Vilchis said she got a tax-ID number from the Internal Revenue Service and has always paid taxes on her earnings, even though she was ineligible for a refund.
Of Kobach’s assertion that there’s no path for illegal immigrants to become legal, she said “That’s absolutely not true … How do you explain me?”
Rep. Judith Loganbill, D-Wichita, questioned another Kobach assertion, that in-state tuition is a state subsidy and a disadvantage to out-of-state students.
She pointed out that undocumented students have to pay the full cost of their tuition and are ineligible for any financial aid.
“I have some problems with you saying we’re subsidizing these students,” she told Kobach. “Whatever the tuition is, they’re paying it.”
Out-of-state students are charged at a higher rate, but can have it partly or fully offset by grants, scholarships and interstate compacts between universities, she said.