The Missouri Legislature should do an about-face on its plan to allow students living in the United States illegally to qualify for in-state tuition rates.

We reported an Associated Press story Wednesday saying immigrant students now are charged the tuition rate for international students. That requirement would end under a last-minute budget deal. The Legislature’s deadline to approve the budget is Friday.

“It takes tuition dollars out of our state at a time when our higher-ed institutions need the enrollment,” said Rep. Ingrid Burnett, D-Kansas City. “There isn’t a good reason for this, other than something based in fear.”

However, it isn’t about fear, it’s about fairness.

Yes, undocumented college students are here based on their parents’ choices to bring their families here illegally. It wasn’t their fault. However, allowing the same in-state tuition benefit offered to legal residents disrespects the immigration process. That’s not fair to the many people who have entered our country the proper way, which can be lengthy and costly.

Other factors demonstrate why this is a bad idea:

• Allowing illegal immigrants to get in-state tuition rates gives them a cheaper tuition rate than legal residents who live in other states.

• Depending on the school, college entrance positions can be limited, making it possible for illegal immigrants to get into a college while legal residents are excluded.

• The practice would violate a 1996 federal law, which states: “An alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a state for any post-secondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”

Before the Legislature gives final approval to Missouri’s budget, we hope lawmakers reconsider extending in-state tuition rates to students who are not here legally.

Copyright Jefferson City News Tribune. Reprinted with permission.

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