KC event explores tuition options for Missouri DREAMERS

Neyvis is set to start her freshman year in the fall at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC). But it’s been a rough ride, due to language inserted in Missouri’s annual higher-education appropriations bill that requires her to pay out-of-state tuition at state-funded schools.

The 19-year-old Kansas City resident, who declined to use her last name in order to protect her family, was born in Mexico. Her parents brought her to the United States when she was five. She graduated from Raytown South High School. She’s been working full time while preparing to start at UMKC, and she plans to work part time during semesters. Her father, she said, “wants me to do it on my own.”

Neyvis and about 50 other students and family members attended an informational session presented by local immigration-advocacy groups at the Mattie Rhodes Center in Kansas City on July 25 to learn about their options if they were unable to secure in-state tuition at their schools. Representatives from Johnson County Community College, Emporia State University, Fort Hays State University, Donnelly College and the University of Kansas also took part in the event.

“It’s hard to think I might not get this because of a lack of money, a lack of rights,” Neyvis told Kansas City Hispanic News. “Education is a big part of my future – it is my future. It’s a little frightening that it could all go.”

Independence resident Alejandra is also a UMKC student, a junior majoring in biology and minoring in chemistry, with an eye on medical school. She got a call recently from the school telling her that her tuition would increase nearly threefold because of the state’s appropriations bill.

Alejandra’s tuition for 15 course credit hours costs about $5,000. The out-of-state tuition rate would inflate that to nearly $14,000, she said. She works about 25 hours a week while attending school.

“It was very upsetting,” she told Hispanic News. “I was with my friends when I got the call, and I just started crying. I called my mom to let her know, and she was very upset and said I’ll have to stay out of school for the semester and see if they change the thing and so we can save money.”

Fortunately for Alejandra and Neyvis, UMKC announced that it would pay for the increased tuition for all its DACA students for the fall semester.

“It’s just amazing to me, and I hope other schools do the same thing,” Alejandra said.

Neyvis and Alejandra are covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, which President Barack Obama’s administration implemented in June 2012. DACA grants lawful presence to undocumented students whose undocumented parents bought them to the U. S. when they were younger than 16. DACA makes the students eligible for certain college scholarships and work authorizations. The students also are covered by the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

UMKC has 14 DACA students enrolled this semester and expects as many as 20 more in the fall semester, spokesman John Martellaro said. He confirmed that UMKC will pay the increased amount of tuition for all its DACA students for the fall semester, and that the campus will use only private-donor money to do so.

University of Missouri System spokesman John Fougere said the system estimated that about 20 to 30 DACA-covered students were enrolled in the university, “but … we expect that number to grow for the fall semester.”

Fougere said each of the system’s campuses was making its own decisions on how to handle the situation. The university system “intends to follow the will of the legislature” regarding tuition for DACA students. He declined to say who at the university system made that decision, or to answer any other questions about the issue.

The appropriations bill, Missouri House Bill 3, in its preamble states in part that the bill appropriates money for the state’s Department of Higher Education for July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, “provided that no funds shall be expended at public institutions of higher education that offer a tuition rate to any student with an unlawful immigration status in the United States that is less than the tuition rate charged to international students, and further provided that no scholarship funds shall be expended on behalf of students with an unlawful immigration status in the United States.”

“Lawful presence” and “legal immigration status” carry different legal distinctions. Lawful presence doesn’t confer legal immigration status.

Representatives Scott Fitzpatrick, a Shell Knob Republican who proposed the preamble language; Brandon Ellington and Kevin McManus, both Kansas City Democrats; Gary L. Ross, a Lee’s Summit Republican; and Jeanie Lauer and Sheila Solon, both Blue Springs Republicans, didn’t return calls from Hispanic News seeking comment.

Missouri Rep. John Rizzo, a Kansas City Democrat, voted against the bill.

“I think it’s a terrible idea,” Rizzo said. “These people are trying to better their lives by coming to what I think is the greatest country in the world. I’m a third-generation Italian-American.”

Rizzo said he “didn’t want to say no” when asked whether the illegal immigration problem could be solved without the U.S. Congress overhauling existing immigration law, but he said “if Congress would get off their rear ends” and take action in line with Obama’s executive orders regarding illegal immigrants, they could solve the problem.

“It’s the same with same-sex marriage,” he said. “States were willy-nilly about it, doing their own thing, but once the Supreme Court ruled, same-sex marriage was upheld throughout the nation. …

“It’s the Republican Party’s hate agenda … that they spew across this country, period. They want to separate children from parents (regarding illegal immigration). … They turn their heads away from it every day for workers here illegally who work in their homes and on their roads,” he said. “… They like making money off of illegal immigrants. They want them to pay into Social Security but not get the benefits it provides.”

Republicans don’t want to enforce existing immigration laws, Rizzo said, because not enforcing them plays to their political supporters.

Jessica Piedra, a lawyer with Immigration Professionals in Kansas City, board president of the Hispanic Coalition of Kansas City and a presenter at the Mattie Rhodes event, said that House Bill 3’s preamble “isn’t officially part of the law.” John Ammann, a professor of law at St. Louis University, agreed.

“As a general principle, the language in the preamble would help you learn what the legislative intent was, but it doesn’t have the force of law directly,” Ammann said. “I think (the legislators) knew exactly what they were doing. They were trying to do a back-door way to get around that they couldn’t do it with legislation. …

“I’m sympathetic on the side of immigrants in this,” he said. “Legislators should have the guts to put substantive legislation in individual bills and not to hide them in appropriations bills. They hope nobody’s going to challenge it. What undocumented immigrant college student is going to get a lawyer and file a lawsuit? They’re assuming that these students won’t challenge it.”

Obama issued an executive order last November extending provisions of DACA and the Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA) program. A federal judge in Texas on Feb. 16 ruled on a lawsuit led by Texas and joined by Kansas and 24 other states asserting that Obama’s actions violated federal law. The judge’s ruling enabled the continuation of the lawsuit, which is pending, and delayed implementation of Obama’s program extensions.

Vanessa Crawford Aragon, executive director of Missouri Immigrant & Refugee Advocates (MIRA), estimated that the state has about 1,200 people covered by DACA.

“In Missouri, we don’t legislate through appropriations bills,” Aragon said. “That’s part of the reason this is bad public policy, because they didn’t go through the law-making process, so now the schools and the students are left to figure out what to do. For a couple of years now, the legislature has considered bills to do this statutorily and they’ve all failed, so this is an end run around the legislative process. This is a life-changing issue for the students that are impacted. … The truth of the matter is that we’re not talking about enough students that it has anything to do with the state budget. That has to be renewed each year.

“What I’m most worried about is that we don’t want to be a state that tells immigrants that they’re not welcome, and I think that’s what this provision of House Bill 3 is all about,” she said. “It would also discourage legal immigrants … (because) the state gets a reputation for being unwelcoming to immigrants generally. … We’re really talking about students and families who are trying to go to college. We shouldn’t be making that harder.”

Missouri is the only state that has passed a law denying in-state tuition for DACA students, Aragon said.

Sarah Rossi, director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, also said that the bill’s preamble doesn’t carry the force of law.

“A preamble is meant to clarify confusion in the body or substance of the law,” Rossi said. “This bill’s body is clear.”

Asked whether the ACLU would file a lawsuit to block the legislature’s action, she said the organization doesn’t “comment on litigation decisions until we’ve made them.”

“I definitely do not think that the Missouri state legislature and public universities in Missouri should be cutting schools for immigrant students or increasing tuition to unattainable levels,” Rossi said. “It’s bad for the schools, it’s bad for the Missouri economy, and it’s bad for Missouri business. They should be seeking to attract that talent, not scare it away.”

Kansas City immigration lawyer Howard Eisberg said his sympathies lie with immigrants.

“Part of the problem is that government entities have cut back on education funding to the point that they’re taking desperate measures … to make up for it on the backs of these people,” Eisberg said. “The DACA people are here through no fault of their own and are as much Americans through their thoughts and actions as any other American. I approach this as an immigration advocate with more or less an emotional and moral viewpoint.”

The Kansas Missouri Dream Alliance has set up a fundraiser for Missouri DACA students at http://bit.ly/MODACAfunds.