Repeated studies and reports showing how immigrants help communities achieve better economic status apparently don’t impress the Missouri legislature.
State lawmakers keep rolling up the welcome mat and turning off the porch light when it comes time to help make life a little better for immigrants in Missouri.
The most recent example was an amendment to the state’s budget bill for higher education that bars colleges and universities from allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates for their education.
The fact that the Coordinating Board for Higher Education already has a rule against it just wasn’t enough for the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. Fitzpatrick filed the legislation so the existing ban would be written into state law.
The legislation including the amendment was approved by the House Budget Committee on a party line vote. Unless reason suddenly breaks out, it will be debated by the full House when lawmakers return March 24 from their midsession break.
Fitzpatrick could have learned something from junior college. The St. Louis Community College board decided in January to offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students with Missouri high school diplomas. The community college district includes St. Louis city and county, and parts of Franklin and Jefferson counties.
Making a college education easier to obtain is part of a regional effort in St. Louis to find ways to make immigrants want to live, work and go to school in the area. Data show they’ll get jobs, pay taxes, start businesses and make this a better place to live.
Students who graduate from Missouri high schools, live in the state and want to attend college should not be punished for their immigration status. Most often they were brought here by their parents as youngsters, even babies, and have grown up as Americans in everything but the privileges of citizenship.
At least 18 states around the country, including Illinois, offer in-state tuition benefits for undocumented students. While Missouri lawmakers are preoccupied with issues like stopping the reform of the nation’s immigration policy, other states are making it easier for immigrants to improve their economies.
Contrast the Missouri legislature’s ham-handed approach with that of President Barack Obama, who last week ordered a review of deportations out of concern for the way families are treated under his administration’s current enforcement efforts.
The same day the Missouri House Budget Committee was figuring out ways to make life harder here for immigrants, Obama met with Hispanic lawmakers and told them he had “deep concern about the pain too many families feel from the separation that comes from our broken immigration system.”
According to a White House statement, Obama told the lawmakers that he had ordered Jeh C. Johnson, the secretary of Homeland Security, to evaluate deportations. Immigration activists and Hispanic lawmakers say families are being ripped apart by aggressive deportation efforts of people whose only crime is entering the United States illegally.
Nearly 2 million immigrants have been deported during Obama’s six years in office, more than under any other administration.
Cutting back on deportations is a tricky issue, one that could threaten bipartisan legislation to overhaul the nation’s complex immigration system. Obama is required by law to spend millions of dollars to rid the country of people who have entered without proper papers.
One way to offer more humane treatment to undocumented immigrants is to exempt from deportation the parents of children who were brought to the United States when they were very young. While talks are underway, Hispanic groups have grown increasingly more concerned. Pressure on the president to take action has moved from fringe activists to mainstream leaders.
The Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project says about 11.7 million immigrants live in the United States illegally and that the population may be increasing after holding steady the last three years.
These people live and work among us. They are not going to be leaving anytime soon. Helping them assimilate and make economic contributions has been a boon in places that have tried it. It’s the right thing to do.
Missouri literally can’t afford to send the wrong message.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.