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N.H. bill would let some illegal immigrants get in-state tuition at public colleges, universities

Starting this year, students must swear under oath that they are legal residents of the United States to be eligible for in-state tuition at New Hampshire’s public colleges and universities.

But amid the national debate over immigration reform, state legislators are considering carving out an exception and allowing people who came here illegally, but otherwise qualify as New Hampshire residents, to get subsidized tuition so long as they apply for legal residency or say they will once the option is available.

“These students have lived in New Hampshire, have attended school in New Hampshire, have graduated from New Hampshire schools and want to further their educations at the University of New Hampshire or one of our community colleges,” said Rep. Mary Stuart Gile, a Concord Democrat and chairwoman of the House Education Committee. “And they feel, and I do too, they should be entitled to in-state tuition.”

Rep. Peter Schmidt, a Dover Democrat, filed a bill this year to grant in-state tuition to any “student who is without lawful immigration status,” but otherwise meets the criteria for in-state tuition, and who has applied “to legalize his or her immigration status, or will file such application as soon as he or she is eligible.”

The exact wording could change; lawmakers are revising the bill now, with their next work session scheduled for Sept. 3. It would apply to the University System of New Hampshire, which includes UNH, Keene State College, Plymouth State University and the 10 campuses of Granite State College.

Gile said the bill was retained this spring by the House Education Committee “pending the outcome of what is going on in Washington,” where immigration reform legislation is being debated by Congress. A comprehensive bill passed the U.S. Senate in June but faces significant opposition in the U.S. House.

Whatever happens at the federal level, the New Hampshire bill will go to the floor of the state House in January.

“It just seemed to me to be an issue that should be brought before the Legislature and the Education Committee, so it could be addressed and the most equitable solution could be found,” Schmidt said.

If it passes the Democratic-controlled House, the bill would then go to the Republican-controlled Senate.

And if it becomes law, it would reverse, at least in part, a policy enacted just last year.

In 2012, the then-GOP-dominated Legislature passed a bill that anyone admitted to a University System of New Hampshire school after Dec. 31, 2012, must execute an affidavit “attesting he or she is a legal resident of the United States” in order to be eligible for in-state tuition.

Opponents, including Gile, called the bill an attack on public higher education. But supporters said it served to clarify existing policy, since, they said, an illegal immigrant by definition couldn’t be a legal New Hampshire resident.

“It’s wrong to be forcing the taxpayers of New Hampshire to subsidize a post-secondary education for those who are breaking the law or are otherwise in our state because of criminal conduct. We shouldn’t be awarding bad behavior in this way and it’s especially unfair to those who follow the rules and come here legally,” said then-House Speaker Bill O’Brien, a Mont Vernon Republican, in a statement at the time.

Versions of the bill passed the House, 250-88, and the Senate, 19-5, on largely party-line votes. Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat, signed the final version into law.

In terms of price, the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition isn’t small. At UNH’s main campus in Durham, in-state tuition is $13,670 this year compared with out-of-state tuition of $26,390. And while in-state tuition at USNH schools has been frozen for two years thanks to a big funding increase in the new state budget, out-of-state tuition will likely continue to rise.

Twelve states have laws allowing illegal immigrants to pay in-state prices under certain circumstances, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, including California, New York and Texas.

It’s not clear how many people would take advantage of such a policy here. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, in 2010 there were an estimated 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the United States, but only 15,000 were in New Hampshire.

Still, it would send a message, said Maggie Fogarty, the economic justice project coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. The Quaker group is part of a coalition of groups that asked Schmidt to introduce the bill.

“It’s important to New Hampshire because we want to be a state that is fair. . . . We want to be a place that says, ‘You are New Hampshire people and you are eligible for in-state tuition,’ ” Fogarty said.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

Legacy Comments7

Just because I have to be different. If your kids are attending a State school you are getting the benefit of lower tuition. Remove the blinders for a moment. Isn't it in our best interests to educate as many people as possible so they can qualify for above minimum wage jobs. Who cares where they come from, an educated person will add value to our workforce which will in turn be pro-business and not a permanent drain on social programs. Quite frankly it is time that we as Americans put renewed focus and value on education. Check out how many H-1B visas are needed by businesses to attract overseas workers. They are only so many job openings for those that major in partying and binge drinking.

Just waiting for the next bill to promote changing the state name of NH to MA 2 or CA 2. Seems as though many want this state to follow the example of those two sanctuary states. I grew up in MA and witnessed how it changed over the years in regards to illegals. Started in the 60's with tons of illegals coming over and living in apts with 10 of their relatives, got on welfare, got special privileges at schools, etc. The word was out, Everything is Free in America, especially in states like MA and CA. Seems like many in NH want that same scenario. Our residents are suffering with paying for their kids college costs, so lets give illegals a break.

Seriously? How about we subsidize tuition for low income US citizen residents of NH instead?

How about we subsidize post-secondary tuition at PUBLIC institutions for ALL residents? It would show shocking awareness of the public value of dollars spent on education... especially as contrasted to the dollars spent on armored police vehicles, "corrections" and the failed War on Drugs.

Only a democrat could think up such an illogical & irrational bill. I will take bets that there is still enough common sense in the Senate to kill this idiocy.

Will someone please explain what the word illegal means, to these idiot lawmakers.

Why do people here legally have to follow the rules and they make exceptions for people here illegally.......The 3rd wave will come as soon as the second wave are made legal.

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