Gov. Deval Patrick took state legislators by surprise when he told college and university officials that illegal immigrants who obtain a federal work permit should pay in-state tuition.
In statements to the media on Monday, Patrick said that the policy is in line with what President Obama authorized last summer — that young illegal immigrants, who were brought here before age 16 with their parents, could obtain a federal work permit and remain in the U.S. without threat of deportation. He said that students who have obtained these federal work permits in the past have been allowed to pay in-state tuition, according to a report in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette.
But some legislators are concerned about the financial impact, including whether the extension of a tuition break could result in more illegal immigrants moving into Massachusetts.
The legislature had debated the issue of state tuition rates for illegal immigrants several times, and ultimately said no to extending a tuition break to college-age children of illegal immigrants, according to state Sen. Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge).
"I think he owes an explanation to the legislature, if not the public, why he believes the president's executive order changes things," Moore said.
Moore said he was taken by surprise by the governor's directive, and questioned whether Patrick had analyzed the financial impact on state institutions. Tuition rates for in-state students are subsidized by state taxes, he said. Out-of-state students can pay more than twice the per-credit rate of in-state students at some colleges.
In his executive order, President Obama did not address the issue of in-state tuition for people who qualify for the federal work permits, instead, leaving it to the states to decide, according to Moore.
State Rep. John Fernandes (D-Milford), interviewed Wednesday afternoon, said it is not clear how many students could qualify for in-state tuition via the federal work permit. The policy, as described by Patrick, would not automatically extend in-state tuition to students graduating from Massachusetts high schools.
The students would have to apply and be accepted into the federal program first. Under the requirements, they have to have entered the country before age 16, and have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. Fernandes, like Moore, said he wants to know what the impact will be, and has asked state staff to research whether the federal work permit should, as Patrick states, be the qualifier for in-state tuition.
In addition to the fiscal impact, Moore said he wonders if the policy change in Massachusetts ultimately could result in some seats at the competitive state universities or colleges going to recent immigrants, and not young adults who have spent their lives in Massachusetts.
"I don't want to be anti-immigrant. I would like to make sure we're doing it right. It seems we're going into this policy change rather blindly."
Moore sponsored legislation last year with Fernandes that would have required students gaining in-state tuition to meet eligibility requirements, including citizenship.