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Approve the RI Dream Act

September 16, 2011

If Rhode Island is serious about developing an educated workforce for the 21st Century, the state must act now. RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says state government can take a small step to help achieve this goal.

One of the storm clouds gathering   over Rhode Island’s economic future is our poorly educated work force. Our state ranks near the bottom of New England in the number of college educated workers that employers need for the jobs of a new century.

A huge challenge in this realm is ensuring that a new generation of immigrants has the opportunity to pursue higher education. For almost a decade now, the General Assembly has had the chance advance this agenda by approving a measure called the Dream Act.

The Dream Act would allow children brought to our state and country by illegal immigrant parents the right to attend Rhode Island’s public colleges and pay in-state tuition.

Children who were brought to the United States illegally are not responsible for their status. If a child comes here at three years old speaking a foreign language and attends public schools, learns English, studies hard and qualifies for admission to college, that student would be entitled to attend a public college for the in-state tuition rate.

The difference between the in-state and out of state cost is significant. At the University of Rhode Island, for example, resident tuition and fees amount to about $12,600 a year. For students from outside the state, that tab is roughly $28,700.

A new  generation  of Latino lawmakers has tried since 2004 to approve a Rhode Island Dream Act. Sen. Juan Pichardo and Rep. Grace Diaz have pushed the legislation, but it has never received serious consideration. The measure has been bottled up in committee, opposed by anti-immigrant sentiment on Smith Hill.

Under the legislation, an immigrant student would have to attend a Rhode Island High School for at least three years and meet the academic qualifications for college. The Dream Act has virtues that both liberals and conservatives should cheer.

Liberals ought to value that such a law would extend the benefits of education to a new generation and open opportunity for immigrants. Conservatives should be pleased that it would advance the conservative values of personal responsibility and competition. Thirteen other states have approved this sensible measure. Even Texas Gov Rick Perry, a Tea Party favorite and liberal bête noir, has signed such a bill into law.

A Dream Act would allow these children to come out from the shadows of illegal immigration and give them hope. This measure is a hand up, not a hand out.  The cost to taxpayers would be minimal   because the state isn’t harvesting these students’ tuitions now.  Our state and country is paying a big price for failing to deal realistically with illegal immigrants.

If ever a state was forged by immigration, it is Rhode Island. The ethnic ballet that has brought movements of immigrants here from England, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Cape Verde and many other nations have given us our rich ethnic and racially blended society.

If the General Assembly refuses to Act, there is another way to get this done. The state Board of Governors for Higher Education sets the rules for  in-state tuition. Maybe its time for Governor Chafee to push the education board to bypass  a legislature filled with descendants of immigrants and make this happen so that yet another generation of immigrants can pursue the American Dream here in the Ocean State.

Scott MacKay’s commentary can be heard every Monday on Morning Edition at 6:45 and 8:45. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at our `On Politics’ blog at WRNI.org

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick permalink
    September 16, 2011 3:14 pm

    Well said Scott.

  2. September 16, 2011 6:04 pm

    Makes perfectly good sense, but it will be a hard sell to many I’m afraid.

  3. Pablo Rodriguez permalink
    September 16, 2011 6:30 pm

    If the GA fails to do this the board of governors could make an administrative decision and maybe even the governor could do it by executive action

  4. September 16, 2011 9:00 pm

    The GA should pass the Dream Act forthwith ; or the Board of Govwernors should.

    It just makes sense for the future of these children who will continue to live here and become citizens eventually and it makes sense for RI to have an educated citizenry.
    I cannot imagine our colleges are getting a lot of non-resident students these days the economy being what it is. More educated people means better citizens, in better jobs, paying better taxes than now.

    It is actually embarassing, when you think about it, that the state that gave us the Senator who promoted the Pell grants to help students go to college, should place such an obstacle to our newest immigrants.

  5. Roberto Gonzalez permalink
    September 17, 2011 1:33 pm

    Thank you Scott MacKay and Ion Donnis for this piece. In-state tuition for unauthorized students is a win-win for all (except immigrant haters). Hopefully the R.I. BOG will act on this very soon.

  6. Marta V. Martinez permalink
    September 17, 2011 10:18 pm

    The only way this will have full effect if is both GA AND the RIBOG move to change Rhode Island history. We need to change the college admissions policy AND pass a law. Let’s do both in 2012!!

  7. September 19, 2011 2:56 pm

    Not a good bed, in either case, to move to change Rhode Island history. Assemblies are not well positioned to produce change and the BOG is hardly made up of change agents.

  8. Kevin permalink
    September 23, 2011 1:02 pm

    To Paraphrase: “If you break the law RI tax payers will help your kids with college….” How about a policy that cracks down on deporting these illegal family’s? I’ll sign that petition. Why do criminals get to “cut the line” of people doing it the right way? I’m all about Immigration, all for the melting pot, and I enjoy different cultures and diversity. But what I’m not keen on is rewarding lazy people for taking shortcuts. Why have laws if we arent going to administer them or expect people to adhear to them? Some of my closest friends are here on work/student visas from other countries. They are working extremely hard be here and to stay here. This disgraces them and they’re efferts. They could have used that $12,000 a year. So could alot of hard working RI-ers. I attended an out of state school and I am drowning in student loan debt. Whos fault is that? Mine. I new the price. I made the decision. I have refused to miss a payment, or blame others for my choices. I have instead sacrificed living arrangements and free time to work two jobs and do what needs to be done in order to function in society. I am an American citizen and I did not get any breaks on out of state tuition. If I have children I will be responsible for their actions until they are of age also. So where is my “Hand Up”?? Whos gonna pat my head and tell me its alright and its not my fault? This bill is not only Un-American but clearly not in ANY legal citizen of the state of RI’s best interest. Who is really paying the $12,000 difference at the end of the year? I say flip this bill, keep out of state tuition rates the same and lower instate college tuition for legal citizens of the state of Rhode Island.

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