SALEM -- Undocumented immigrant students will soon get in-state college tuition rates in Oregon.
Governor John Kitzhaber signed the Tuition Equity Bill just before 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Under the law, immigrant students must follow these guidelines in order to qualify:
- Attend high school in Oregon for at least three years
- Attend school in the United States for at least five years
- Show proof of intent to become a U.S. citizen
This bill has been a long time coming, in the eyes of Laura Lanka. She started pushing for it back in 2002, when she was the principal at Woodburn High School. Lanka felt that undocumented kids were giving up on school because college was so extremely expensive for them.
Tuesday, Lanka was joined by dozens of students and supporters in the governor’s ceremonial office when Kitzhaber signed the bill and made it law.
"It really fills my heart to see all these young people so excited about their opportunities and about moving forward," she said. "I'm very happy."
“The sacrifices that our parents made are not in vain,” said 20-year-old Hugo Nicolas. “For a lot of parents, this is the dream of their life when they have kids - for them to be able to go to college - and now this is coming true.”
Supporters said illegal immigrants should be treated the same way as lawful residents. And now, around 30 students were expected to attend college in the fall, thanks to the bill. They believe it will only grow from there.
“This bill will help those young Oregonians whose families brought them here, who went to school here, who worked hard, who got good grades, graduated from high school - exactly the kind of people we want in our system of public universities,” Kitzhaber said. “It will help them get their shot at the American dream.”
Student Edith Gomez agreed, saying, "It was really emotional. You see people crying and you really see how these are actual human beings, and how it's going to impact their lives."
Opponents had argued that the state shouldn't subsidize the rates for people who violated immigration laws. They also wanted to make sure tuition equity wasn't being abused.
The bill goes into effect in July, which means immigrant students will be able to pay in-state tuition rates at the start of the 2012-2013 school year. Out-of-state rates are about triple the cost of in-state rates.
Background: Senate approves Oregon immigrant tuition bill