Oregon House passes illegal-immigrant tuition bill

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon House lawmakers voted Friday to pass a bill that would extend resident college tuition rates to some young illegal immigrants following a passionate — and at moments heated — hour-long debate.

After the numbers showed the bill had passed, supporters watching in the gallery stood up and, holding hands, raised their arms in celebration.

“When I saw those numbers I was very excited,” said Hugo Nicolas, 20, an illegal immigrant who wants to attend the University of Oregon to study economics.

Rep. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat who sponsored the measure, called it a “historic” vote, an important educational and economic step for Oregon.

The House’s 38-18 vote sends the measure to the Senate. In the last decade, similar legislation has failed twice in the House after passing the Senate in 2003 and 2011. Both died in the House without a vote amid Republican opposition. This time five Republicans supported it.

The measure would allow students to qualify for in-state tuition at Oregon’s seven public universities if they’ve attended an Oregon high school for at least three years and lived in the United States for at least five. They’d also have to sign an affidavit swearing they’ll apply to legalize their immigration status as soon as they are eligible.

Illegal immigrants would not be eligible for state or federal financial aid, and they’d be subject to the same university entrance requirements as other applicants.

Republicans offered a counter proposal that would have made the bill expire in 2016 and limited the resident tuition rates to students in the country by July 1. It also would have provided more stringent rules on how students would follow through with their pledge to become lawful residents. It was rejected in a party-line vote.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Office estimated the bill would increase the state’s revenue by $335,000 over the next two years and by an additional $1.6 million between 2015 and 2017.

The Oregon University System estimated 38 illegal immigrant-students would take advantage of the resident tuition rates during the next two years and 80 more students would take part in the two years after that.

The difference between resident and nonresident tuition is almost $20,000. At the University of Oregon, resident tuition fees for 15 credits, the average course load, are currently $9,310 per year.

“I know that this historic vote is really the result of larger historic forces that are at play,” Dembrow said, referencing President Barack Obama’s promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

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