On April 6, I delivered the following statement to the Senate Subcommittee on Border Security on Senate Bill 1819, which seeks to repeal in-state tuition for illegal immigrants:
I have been a contemplative conservative all of my adult life. I held a high position in the Reagan administration that required Senate confirmation, and later became chief of staff to Chief Justice Warren Burger. In-state tuition for illegal immigrants complies with some major conservative principles:
First, it’s good economics. Educated immigrants pay back to society more than they take. A National Research Council study reported, “Immigrants and their descendants represent a net fiscal gain for the United States. The typical immigrant and all his or her descendants represent a positive $80,000 fiscal gain to the government. An immigrant with more than a high school education (plus descendants) represents a $198,000 fiscal gain, one with a high school diploma a $51,000 gain, and one with less than a high school education a $13,000 loss.”
Second, it’s good for business. Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Businesses, reports: “We think in-state tuition is a very appropriate response to the fact that we need more Texans going to college and completing college.”
Third, illegal immigrants contribute to the tax base. They pay sales taxes and property taxes. The Competitive Enterprise Institute reported: “A large 2006 survey of unauthorized immigrants . . . found that 75% had taxes withheld from their paychecks, filed tax returns, or both.”
Fourth, it’s good for neighborhoods, reducing blight. Business Insider reports: “immigrants create demand, they clear out undesired inventory, and they improve crime-ridden neighborhoods.”
Fifth, a major tenet of conservatism is that it champions the supremacy of the individual over the group, especially over group identity. When I look at an illegal immigrant, I don’t see a group: I see a human being, with flesh and blood, a person with his or her own name and a unique identity.
I wish to dispel the myth that in-state tuition to illegal immigrants will serve as a magnet drawing others to the U.S. This charge holds little water: Immigrants come here primarily to get jobs or to unite with families or to escape crime—not to get in-state college tuition.
To the charge, “What in the term ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” yes, they are illegal and subsidized, but they will not likely return to their native country, and ICE each year deports only 3.5 percent of the 11.2 million illegal immigrants in the country. Educate these illegal-immigrant students and let them pay back to society far more than they take.
The Coordinating Board reports that in fiscal year 2013, illegal immigrants numbered 7,011 in public universities and 17,735 in two-year schools or 1.8 percent of the 1.4 million college students in Texas. There’s plenty of room for them; many colleges are actively advertising for more students. These immigrants displace no one.
What tugs at our strings are the young kids brought to this country by their parents and who have come to know America as their only country. Yet they would be punished by prohibitive tuition, retarding their efforts to be productive individuals in our society. Tuition for these immigrants, for example, at Texas A & M would rise from $9,052 to $25,672 a year. This prohibition is economically foolish and, yes, cruel.