SALEM, Ore. - Illegal immigrants are one step closer to paying in-state tuition at Oregon colleges. A controversial "tuition equality" bill cleared a major hurdle Monday in the Legislature.
The bill would grant in-state tuition for undocumented students. But even if it passes and is signed into law in current form, many illegal immigrants might not be able to take advantage of it.
From grade school to graduation, undocumented students are considered equal to their citizen classmates. But once in college, those same students are denied in-state tuition.
"This wasn't a choice they made as children, but sending them back to Mexico isn't even an option," Latino community organizer Greg Delgado said.
House Bill 2787 would allow illegal immigrants to apply for in-state tuition.
"It's a piece to develop our communities, not to take from them," Delgado said.
"I'm dabbling in a lot of bills," said Rep. John Huffman, who has gotten backlash over his support of the legislation.
"I would get hundreds of emails from people saying, 'You better not give undocumented people free education'," Huffman said.
The bill only focuses on getting illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates.
However, federal law still prevents illegal immigrants from qualifying for student assistance.
"You'll have a hard time finding people against it ," at Central Oregon Community College, said full-time student Kurt Killinger.
Killinger, director of legislative affairs for ASCOCC, is watching the bill for tuition equity closely.
"It's gaining momentum, and we're just happy to see it heading in the direction it is," Killinger said.
A representative for Oregonians for Immigration Reform, Jim Ludwick, gave his point of view Monday afternoon.
"The proponents of it call it 'tuition equity.' I counter, how can it be tuition equity if an American citizen has to pay $20,000 more in tuition than an illegal alien?" Ludwick questioned.
Leah Neil, a COCC student paying in-state tuition, told NewsChannel 21 she hopes the legislation passes, but only for people whose parents were responsible for their lack of citizenship.
"If they made the choice and moved here and tried to get discounts on things and were sending money back home and what not, I'd say that's not right," Neil said.
The bill now goes to the full house for a vote that's expected next week.
As currently written, the bill would not give all undocumented immigrants in-state tuition. To qualify, they have to have attended school in the U.S. for at least five years. They must study at an Oregon high school for at least three years, and graduate.
They also must file an affidavit with an Oregon university system, saying they have or will apply for citizenship.