Advocates call on lawmakers to allow in-state tuition for immigrants

Billy Reeves of the Pittsburgh-based Casa Jose center for immigrants

Billy Reeves of the Pittsburgh-based Casa Jose center for immigrants John L. Micek

By John L. Micek

Advocates for undocumented Pennsylvanians rallied at the state Capitol on Monday, where they called on state lawmakers to pass legislation that would allow those individuals to pay in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities and qualify for aid from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.

The proposal sponsored by Democratic Reps. Peter Schweyer, Lehigh County; Danilo Burgos, of Philadelphia, and Manuel Guzman Jr., of Berks County, is currently before the Republican-controlled House Education Committee, where it has sat, without receiving a vote, since it was sent there in June.

Twenty-two other states, including neighboring Maryland, New Jersey and New York, have approved similar legislation, Billy Reeves, of the Pittsburgh-based immigration resource organization, Casa San Jose, said.

To qualify for assistance under the proposal, immigrant students must have attended and graduated from a Pennsylvania high school, or obtained their GED, and be enrolled at a state college or university, the lawmakers wrote in a memo seeking co-sponsors.

With 160,000 of the state’s 180,000 undocumented residents aged 16 and older, Reeves argued that the bill would boost enrollment and provide badly needed revenue for Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities, which have struggled to attract and keep students.

In July, the state System of Higher Education unanimously voted to merge six schools into two, regional campuses to stanch the enrollment bleed and to contain rising tuition, the Capital-Star previously reported.

For undocumented Pennsylvanians and their families, the legislation would provide a pathway to higher education that would enable them to improve their skills and to advance economically, Reeves said.

Most of those who would benefit from the program are”first generation college students — or are trying to get to college at least, and come from low-income backgrounds” Yeny Romero, of the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition, said.

Noting the handful of advocates who attended Monday’s event, Jose Ochoa, of Casa San Jose, said he wished more students could be there, but “they’re probably working on someone’s roof or in a restaurant.”

“Those are good jobs,” Ochoa added, but approving the bill “would create so many opportunities,” for those who need them.

John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.