Repeal of Nebraska tuition bill draws support

AP News
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Posted: Dec 28, 2009 10:41 AM

Nebraska lawmakers are set to again consider repealing a law that offers tuition breaks to some illegal immigrants, and the looming debate is already drawing support.

A majority of lawmakers participating in an Associated Press pre-session survey say they support rescinding the offer made after lawmakers fought to override Gov. Dave Heineman's veto to pass the law in 2006.

Of the 33 senators responding to the survey, 18 said they support repealing the measure, while six said they don't. Eight said they're unsure. One senator, Amanda McGill of Lincoln, didn't check an answer, but offered a comment asking for more sanctions on businesses.

"Immigrants come here for jobs," she said. "Not for tuition."

The 2006 law benefits students whose parents brought them to the United States illegally. It allows Nebraska high school graduates who aren't U.S. citizens or legal residents to attend a Nebraska public college or university at the in-state tuition rate. They must have lived in the state for at least three years and must be pursuing or promise to pursue legal status.

Nine other states _ California, Illinois, Kansas, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin _ have such in-state tuition laws for students who are in the country illegally. Oklahoma repealed its law in 2008.

Nebraska state Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont introduced an amendment earlier this year to repeal the law, but was blasted for tacking it onto another immigration bill after it made its way through committee debate. Janssen backed off, but promised to bring the tuition issue back.

He now plans to introduce the legislation next month and says he has an obligation to do so.

"The federal government has failed to act on this and now we're being forced to act on this," he said.

Students currently participating in the program and those who have applied would be exempt if the law were repealed, Janssen said.

As of mid-December, 35 such students were enrolled in the state university system, according to figures compiled by Janssen's office. That includes 17 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and 15 at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. State colleges reported none, and community college officials didn't immediately respond to a request for the information.

Janssen's office didn't have data on past enrollments.

Supporters of Nebraska's law say it gives an incentive to students to remain in high school, get an education and eventually contribute to society and the economy of the state.

Lawmakers shouldn't punish those students, said Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln.

"They are the future of our nation and having an educated work force will be necessary in the coming decades," he said.

Opponents say it's unfair to offer a discount to those breaking the law. They also say it sends the wrong message about Nebraska's stance on illegal immigration.

"It is unfair to the citizens who must support the benefit, and it is unfair to those across the world who abide and respect our rule of law," Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln said.