SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A bill that would allow undocumented Oregon youth to attend state universities at resident tuition rates drew hundreds of people Thursday to an emotional state Senate committee hearing.
Supporters argued that young people brought to Oregon illegally should not be barred from the public universities because of the high price of out-of-state tuition.
"These kids are not lawbreakers," said Rep. Michael Dembrow, D-Portland, but rather young people who "work hard, get good grades, dream big."
"In this country we do not punish children for the actions of their parents," he added.
However, Cynthia Kendall of Salem urged the education committee to drop the idea.
"How is it that people can break the law and get a benefit?" she asked.
The crowd for the hearing on Senate Bill 742 filled three additional rooms where testimony was broadcast on big screens. The crowd also spilled into the lobby area outside the Senate and House chambers.
A majority of Oregon's undocumented youth lives in low-income, Latino homes. They find it a challenge to pay resident tuition and fees, which now average $7,100 for undergraduates at the seven state campuses, university officials say. Out-of-state tuition, which is about three times that, would be out of reach, they say. University of Oregon tuition and fees total $8,190 for residents and $25,830 for students from out of state, The Oregonian reported.
The bill would grant in-state tuition only to undocumented students who had lived in the state at least three years before graduating from high school.
Jim Ludwick of McMinnville, representing Oregonians for Immigration Reform, told lawmakers it would be unfair for Oregon universities to charge Americans from out-of-state three times what they charge residents who are here illegally.
He contended the bill would cost Oregon millions in lost tuition.
The university system estimates the bill would bring only a handful of illegal youth into Oregon universities, having little effect on costs.
Several students said they need the bill.
Samantha Moreno, 16, of North Eugene High School, said she was born in Mexico, came to Oregon at age 6. She said she wants to go to school to become a chef.
Jessica Garcia, also of North Eugene High School, said she's earning a 3.7 grade point average and wants to go to college to study microbiology.
"Without tuition equity (SB 742), my dream of being a microbiologist may be taken away," she said.
Sen. Frank Morse, R-Albany and a member of the education committee, said he's received the most vicious calls in his legislative career over his co-sponsorship of the bill. He said he concluded the proposal was the right thing to do.
Committee Chairman Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, said the committee will spend more time on the bill.
Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.