Bill would reverse tuition discount for undocumented students in Ohio

Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor John Carey, citing legal advice from Republican Attorney General Mike DeWine, announced last month Ohio residents who have been admitted to the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are eligible for in-state tuition rates, which can cut the cost of tuition by half or more compared to out-of-state rates.

DACA, authorized by Democratic President Barack Obama in June 2012, grants two years of what largely amounts to renewable legal status for undocumented immigrants who were born in 1981 or later and came to the country when they were 16 or younger, among other requirements.

State Rep. Wes Retherford, one of the bill’s sponsors, said the Board of Regents and DeWine made the wrong move.

“You can’t be rewarding people who are doing the wrong thing,” said Retherford, R-Hamilton. “This is going to cost the state tens of thousands, and possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars, to do this when there are individuals who are natural citizens or even (legal) immigrants that have done the right thing … They’re struggling to go to college, and we want to help people who aren’t even Americans go to college. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

Tony Ortiz, a member of the Ohio Latino Affairs Commission and staff member at Wright State University, said the bill would hurt young people who are trying to get an education.

“Not everything is a black and white issue. It’s unfortunate these kids got caught up. They got brought here as young kids because their families brought them. But they had no say in that,” said Ortiz, who was among the Latino Affairs commissioners who signed a resolution in May urging the Board of Regents to grant in-state tuition to people registered with DACA.

How many potential state university students the bill — and the Ohio Board of Regents/DeWine ruling — would impact is still unclear.

Rep. Matt Lynch, R-Geauga County, the bill’s other sponsor, said in a written statement the Board of Regents’ decision “will cost Ohio taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.”

To reach a value of $10 million, 1,000 DACA students would have to receive a $10,000 in-state discounts on their tuition.

Ortiz said a handful of undocumented students that he knows of have applied to attend WSU under the reduced rate. He estimated as many 10,000 DACA residents across Ohio in the coming years could qualify for reduced tuition.

Robin Burnette with DreamActivist Ohio, an advocacy group for undocumented immigrants, said around 500 Ohioans have been approved through DACA, but didn’t know how many would attend college or apply for reduced tuition.

“We can say close to 100 people applied to Columbus State (Community College) to attend in the fall semester as of a week ago,” Burnette said. But she didn’t know how many actually ended up on campus this week.

Amy Murray, a spokeswoman for Ohio State University, said in an email the school is still studying how to implement the Board of Regents’ announcement, “although we have had a handful of inquiries and do anticipate a small number.”

Ortiz said bills like the one sponsored by Lynch and Retherford serve to alienate the Latino community from the Republican Party, which has increasingly sought to reach out to Hispanic voters.

“There’s a lot of Latino folks in the state who feel strongly about taking care of these kids. And if the Republican Party turns its back on these kids, they’re basically turning their back on the Latino community,” Ortiz said.

Retherford said his bill doesn’t target Latinos.

“This isn’t about Hispanics, this is about all immigrants. Like I said, we welcome immigrants who come here the right thing and do the right thing with open arms,” he said.

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