CONCORD, N.H. — University System of New Hampshire college students who entered the U.S. illegally would get in-state tuition if they met certain requirements under a bill being voted on by the House this month.
The students would have to be a graduate of a high school in the state or have gotten a New Hampshire high school equivalency certificate. They would have had to attend a state high school for three years before graduating or receiving an equivalency certificate and have met all the other criteria for in-state rates.
The students also would be required to apply for legal residency if they have not already done so and file a copy with the university system.
Opponents argue it isn’t fair for out-of-state students to pay higher tuition than students in the country illegally. In-state tuition at the University of New Hampshire is $13,670 this year compared with $26,390 for a non-resident. At Keene State College and Plymouth State University, the in-state rate is $10,410 compared with more than $17,000 for out-of-state students.
The bill would modify a law passed in 2012 that took effect last year, requiring students receiving in-state tuition to file an affidavit attesting that they are legal residents of the United States. The law was passed after much debate over whether young people living illegally in New Hampshire and attending its secondary schools deserved the same financial break as legal residents.
The bill would affect fewer than 100 students, estimated Eva Castillo-Turgeon, a New Hampshire-based advocate with the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Center. Students who aren’t legal residents don’t qualify for aid programs that help offset the high cost of attending college, but might be able to more easily afford to go if they get a break in tuition, she said.
“These children were raised here. These children embraced our principles, our values,” she said.
Fifteen states allow students who have lived illegally in the U.S. for several years to become eligible for in-state tuition if they met certain criteria, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996 sought to prohibit states from providing the in-state benefit to people who live in the U.S. without legal permission unless a citizen is eligible for the same benefit, but NCSL says there is disagreement over what the provision means and no federal guidance has been issued.
Immigration reform has been stalled in Congress that would help young immigrants attend college who were brought into the country illegally by their parents.
Supporters argue many of the students are brought into the country as children, are raised as Americans and don’t realize they don’t qualify for privileges such as in-state tuition until they are teenagers.
But in a message to the House, state Rep. Ralph Boehm argues that the federal government is in charge of immigration and the state should not interfere with its decisions on the issue.
“It is not right for your children or grand-children to not be able to take a course because it is filled by illegal residents,” said Boehm, a Republican from Litchfield.