No taxation without education

Undocumented students in Virginia should be given the chance to pay in-state tuition to attend a public university

Student Council’s External Affairs committee passed a resolution Tuesday in support of a bill in the House that would allow undocumented immigrants living in Virginia to attend any state school and pay in-state tuition. One of the requirements for eligibility is proof that the college applicant or applicant’s parents paid Virginia income taxes for at least three years. Additionally, the applicant must have attended a Virginia public or private school for at least three years and have graduated high school or earned a GED.

The justification for charging lower tuition for in-state students is that they or their families have contributed to state funding by paying taxes. Many are under the impression that undocumented workers pay no taxes, making them freeloaders who try to reap the benefits of living in our country while avoiding all of the costs. But this is a huge misconception. Undocumented workers do in fact pay taxes. Despite the fact that there is little incentive and much disincentive for undocumented workers to pay taxes — they are usually ineligible for Social Security and Medicare benefits, and the risk of being deported dissuades many from filing tax returns — undocumented workers contribute about $15 billion to Social Security each year, according to the New York Times.

To offer in-state tuition to undocumented workers who have contributed to the tax pool of the state is a matter of fairness. And it also could give undocumented workers an incentive to pay taxes, so their children will have the opportunity to go to college for the same price as their next-door neighbors.

Some may argue that those who break the law by entering the country illegally do not deserve to benefit from the price of in-state tuitions. But this argument is flawed, because most college applicants who are undocumented probably entered the country at the discretion of their parents. There are about 2.1 million undocumented minors in the United States, who under the DREAM Act could obtain legal status. The DREAM Act applies to undocumented minors who have been in the country for at least five years, indicating that these 2.1 million were too young to have entered the country of their volition. They do not deserve to be punished for circumstances over which they had no control.

To deny in-state tuition to undocumented students who live in Virginia leaves them in a kind of limbo. Prospective students who are U.S. citizens have the option of choosing a public school outside their state and paying a higher price, or staying in-state and paying less. Undocumented applicants do not have that choice. They are treated as out-of-state students despite their residence. Such a policy restricts their access to the educational opportunities that all other prospective college students have.

There is widespread agreement that the whole country is in need of an immigration policy reform, but the debate on that larger issue is too complicated to fit into one editorial. The current bill before the Virginia House is a small improvement to a flawed immigration system, specific to the issue of educational opportunities. There are many students who could bring great contributions to the University or to other Virginia public schools. This initiative is an important step towards admitting them to those institutions.

Published February 12, 2014 in Opinion

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