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C.O. Latino activists hopeful of tuition equity bill passage

But others say it's not fair to legal citizens

In-state tuition bill now up to Ore. Senate

BEND, Ore. - When the Oregon House passed a tuition equity bill last Friday, Latino activists were overjoyed. They've been trying to clear that hurdle ever since a similar bill died in the House in 2011.

Still, many others are against the idea of giving in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

Central Oregon Latino community activist Greg Delgado said Tuesday he hasn't uncorked the champagne yet, but they are very confident that the bill is going to pass the Senate and become law.

For now, they're waiting and crossing their fingers.

"I don't really think about (college), because I wasn't going to be able to pay for it," said 20-year-old Bend resident Alberto Dorantez when asked about whether he thought about going to college after high school.

"I think (the bill) is going to help students,who were like me, went through high school -- and then you get to your junior year, and they don't know what to do," he said. "Some people just drop out."

Not Dorantez though -- he graduated high school and now wants to attend college.

"Being able to make a life for myself, help my family and not just bouncing around, looking for jobs," Dorantez said.

Dorantez is an undocumented immigrant, and he can't apply for any federal assistance to help pay for school.

Delgado said, "His story is very much in line with why we do this work."

Delgado has been advocating the state Legislature to get a bill passed to grant in-state tuition for students like Dorantez.

"We can't drop a person who's bright and intelligent and compassionate, and just make them sling burgers for a living," Delgado said.

Only five Republicans supported the bill including The Dalles Rep. John Huffman.

"I would get hundreds of emails from people saying, 'You'd better not give undocumented people free education,'" Huffman told me shortly the session began in Salem earlier this month. "Well, the tuition equity bill does not give free education to anybody."

Huffman's Central Oregon colleagues, Jason Conger, Gene Whisnant and Mike McLane, voted no after amendments to set a time limit among other changes were rejected.

"We feel sorry for (undocumented immigrants) -- we understand their plight," said John Philo, the newly-elected Deschutes County Republicans chairman. "It shouldn't be the citizens of Oregon's tax money that goes to support their education."

Philo says there's another issue: Oregon law doesn't allow individuals to obtain an occupational or professional license without a valid Social Security number.  

"In essence, their education may be wasted here, and not be able to practice their specialty, or take advantage of the education they did receive," Philo said.

Delgado points out there are still many professions immigrants like Dorantez will be able to do with the passage of the bill.

"He's going to be a wage earner that supports his family," Delgado said. "We've got to make sure it's not supported on a minimum-wage job."

Immigration issues aren't over yet though. Next week, Latino activists are holding a five-day bus tour through Oregon's Second Congressional District, discussing immigration reform issues.

The tour begins on Tuesday, March 5th in Bend, starting with a march from the Social Justice Center to the Trinity Episcopal Church. From there, the bus will head to Madras and seven other cities.

Another focus of the March for One Oregon bus tour is another controversial topic: drivers licenses for undocumented immigrants.

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