NEWARK - Officials in a New Jersey county are urging the local community college to reconsider a recent decision to allow illegal immigrants to enroll as students and pay in-county tuition rates.
Morris County Freeholder Thomas Mastrangelo said Friday that the freeholders feel the money they give the County College of Morris - which he says accounts for about 20 percent of the school's budget - should only be used to subsidize tuition rates for students born in the United States or living in the U.S. legally.
"We're subsidizing it for citizens," Mastrangelo said. "Let's say you have a veteran coming back from Afghanistan or Iraq and they want to register for a class and that class is filled, and you have a percentage of undocumenteds in there, what do you tell the citizens?"
The college's board of trustees voted in February to overturn a policy that was passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and had barred illegal immigrants from taking classes. Starting in May with the summer semester, illegal immigrants will be allowed to enroll if they can prove they came to the United States before age 16, have been living in the U.S. for at least five years and graduated from a U.S. high school or with an equivalency diploma, among other criteria. Those who can prove residence in Morris County will be allowed to pay in-county tuition rates of about $130 per credit, compared to about $250 per credit for out-of-county residents and about $350 per credit for out-of-state students.
Mastrangelo, who is the freeholder liaison to the CCM board, said the freeholders may ask the college to at least rescind in-county rates for illegal immigrants. He said next week they plan to give the college a written proposal with suggestions on modifying its policy.
College officials would not comment further on the issue until they received a formal written proposal from the freeholders for consideration by the board, college spokeswoman Kathleen Brunet Eagan said.
The college's president, Edward Yaw, told the Daily Record newspaper of Parsippany at a meeting of school officials and freeholders Wednesday that the board still supported the position on which it had recently voted.
"It's the only position we have at this point," Yaw told the newspaper.
The issue of whether illegal immigrants should be allowed to enroll in post-secondary institutions is an ongoing debate at the federal and local levels across the United States.
Opponents say allowing illegal immigrants to enroll in college takes seats away from legal residents, usurps scarce resources and taxpayer money to subsidize the undocumented and encourages illegal immigration.
Supporters, including many illegal immigrant students, say those who are brought to the United States as children and work hard, grow up in the local school systems and graduate from U.S. high schools are faced with dead ends after their senior years - regardless of how hard they work. They say getting a college education and entering the work force would make them less of a burden on taxpayers.
Several of New Jersey's community colleges, and some private colleges, currently allow illegal immigrants to enroll or don't ask for immigration status on school applications.
The presidents of more than half the state's 19 community colleges, in consultation with their boards of trustees, in December signed a letter urging the state's congressional delegation to help pass the Dream Act, federal legislation that would have allowed immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally before the age of 16 the chance to legalize their statuses by completing at least two years of college or military service if they satisfied certain criteria.
The bill, which did not pass, also would have granted states the power to decide whether to allow students covered by the Dream Act to pay in-state tuition rates.
Mastrangelo said that since the Dream Act failed, and in the absence of any new federal legislation, he and the freeholders believe the issue shouldn't be decided at the local level.