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2015 January 19 - 07:28 pm

Plan To Open Mo. Scholarships To Immigrants Under Fire

Lawmaker Files Legislation To Block Higher Education Aid to DACA Students

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A plan to allow some Missouri immigrant students qualify for the same community college scholarships as state residents is under fire from a Republican lawmaker.

State Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick has filed legislation that would prevent anyone without legal status from getting state aid for higher education. His goal is to block a proposed rule by the state Department of Higher Education that would allow some immigrant students to qualify for the state’s A+ scholarship program, which covers two years of studies at a community college.

At issue are students who qualify for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, created by President Obama in 2012 to stop the deportation of children who have lived in the U.S. for years but whose parents brought them to the country illegally as children.

DACA means that some students who previously were viewed as living in the country illegally now are considered to be lawfully present.

Jeffery Passel, a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center, estimates that in 2012 there were roughly 6,000 to 7,000 K-12 students in Missouri who were in the country illegally. Those who graduate from a Missouri high school with at least a 2.5 grade point average and good attendance, and who satisfy various other requirements, including involvement in tutoring or mentoring programs, would qualify for the scholarship under the proposed plan.

Fitzpatrick said his legislation would close a “loophole” in state law that the department is attempting to use to give those students access to the scholarships.

“That’s the opposite of what we should be doing,” Fitzpatrick said. “That’s not going to make our immigration problem better.”

The Missouri Community College Association has raised concerns about expanding the A+ program to more students before it is fully funded. Its interim executive director, Ann Brand, said adding students could strain a program that is already underfunded and that could face cuts.

Still, the potential cost of expanding the program is uncertain.

Department of Higher Education spokeswoman Liz Coleman said there’s no way to know exactly how many new students would be eligible and would apply.

Fitzpatrick said it’s unfair to expand the program when some Missouri citizens already are at risk of not receiving the amount promised them. Students who should be getting fully paid tuition might need to pay for two or three credit hours in the spring semester, Coleman said.

Many states don’t have laws specifically addressing whether students living in the country illegally can qualify for college scholarships or other aid. Five states have laws allowing the scholarships while 18 have laws offering in-state tuition rates to such students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Alabama and South Carolina prohibit such students from attending public colleges or universities and ban them from receiving state aid. Three other states also ban instate tuition for students living in the country illegally.

Similar policies restricting financial aid to immigrants living illegally in Missouri could make all immigrants, not just students who qualify under the deferred action program, feel unwelcome, said Vanessa Crawford Aragon, who heads Missouri Immigrant & Refugee Advocates.

She said students who qualify for those scholarships pay state taxes and meet other requirements for financial aid, just like other students, and singling them out based on the country they were born in “runs counter to our sense of fairness in Missouri.”

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