Breaking the Law, Breaking the Budget

On May 20, Kansas’s Democrat Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed into law a statute giving in-state tuition at Kansas universities to illegal aliens. With the stroke of the Governor’s pen, Kansas joined six other states–California, New York, Texas, Utah, Illinois and Washington–with similar laws.

Sebelius was assisted by a coalition of Democrats and liberal Republicans in the Kansas Legislature who think that taxpayers should subsidize the tuition of illegal aliens. Similar bills were introduced in seventeen other states. Fortunately, those states had the good sense to reject the proposal.

The law is objectionable for three basic reasons: it is illegal on numerous levels, it is profoundly unfair to U.S. citizens, and it is unaffordable at a time when universities across the nation are strapped for cash.

First and foremost, . In 1996, Congress passed a federal statute specifically prohibiting state governments from giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens (Title 8 U.S.C. Section 1623). Congress declared that no state may give in-state tuition benefits to illegal aliens without extending the same benefits to out-of-state U.S. citizens.

Kansas and the six other states have openly and flagrantly disregarded federal law. Their stance is reminiscent of the nullification movement of 1830s–when southern states explicitly defied Acts of Congress. Moreover, it is a challenge to the constitutional framework of our nation; the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from violating federal law.

Beyond the illegality of the legislation itself, Kansas is now encouraging aliens to violate federal immigration laws. The state directly rewards illegal behavior with a valuable education benefit. Amazingly, the Kansas law actually denies in-state tuition to those legal aliens who have a valid student visa. Aliens are sent this message: “In Kansas, we encourage you to violate the law. If you actually get a valid visa to study here, we will penalize you by making you pay out-of-state tuition.” Talk about perverse incentives.

Imagine if a state passed a law that rewarded residents for cheating on their federal income taxes–by giving state tax credits to those who break federal tax laws. That is the equivalent of what Kansas has done. It is a direct financial subsidy to those who violate federal law.

The second fundamental problem with giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens is that it is unfair to U.S. citizens. It is a slap in the face to law-abiding American students. For example, consider a student from Missouri who attends Kansas University (which is only 35 miles from the state line). That Missouri student has always played by the rules and obeyed the law. Perhaps his father even fought in the Vietnam War. Yet Kansas University will now charge him $7,800 a year more than it charges an alien from 1,000 miles away whose very presence is a violation of federal criminal law.

It is also unfair to the in-state families who will have to pick up the tab. Their hard-earned tax dollars will now be used to pay for the illegal aliens’ subsidized tuition. And as the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, the size of that tab will only get larger.

In an instance of perfect irony, on May 20–the very day that Governor Sebelius signed the law giving in-state tuition to illegal aliens–the University of Kansas announced that it would be raising tuition by 18%. And that was on top of a 21% tuition increase in 2003. Just when students are hit with another back-breaking hike in their education bill, Governor Sebelius piles on an additional financial burden that the universities cannot afford.

Who will pay the bill? The other students and the Kansas taxpayers. And the price tag won’t be cheap. Using very conservative INS numbers from the year 2,000, it is estimated that more than 2,660 illegal aliens in Kansas will be eligible take advantage of the in-state tuition benefit each year. That means that the total cost could be up to $20.8 million a year. And this is at a time when the Kansas State Board of Regents–the governing body of the university system–has requested more than $100 million in additional tax dollars to keep university services at their present level.

In California, the cost to state taxpayers of providing in-state tuition to illegal aliens is more than $70 million a year. With illegal aliens consuming so many government subsidies and services, it is hardly surprising that the Golden State is so deep in the red.

So why in the world would any sane legislator or governor seek to give in-state tuition to illegal aliens? The usual argument in favor of the law is that it is a matter of compassion to help illegal aliens attend college in the United States.

The problem with this argument is that they are asking out-of-state American students and in-state taxpayers to pay the price. The cost of a university education is rapidly rising beyond the reach of many middle or lower income Americans. Paying to subsidize the education of illegal aliens will only drive the cost up higher. And that will cause many American students to mortgage their future with massive student loans or to forgo their dreams of college altogether. So much for compassion.