Hundreds of immigrant students marched from downtown Saint Paul to the State Capitol Tuesday morning, where they rallied for better access to college educations.
It's the fourth annual Immigrant Student Day at the Capitol, sponsored by the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Association. The teens spent the day lobbying lawmakers on behalf of the Dream Act, which would allow high-achieving immigrant students who graduate from Minnesota high schools to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities.
Many of the students entered the United States as children when their parents came here without permission, or overstayed the limits of their visas. They are therefore classified as "illegal aliens" by the US government, although it's a label they don't like to wear.
Eleven other states currently have similar legislation on the books, but Governor Tim Pawlenty has consistently promised to veto the Dream Act if it passes. He has threatened to kill entire education financing bills if they contain the provisions of the Dream Act.
The Governor contends the concept of in-state tuition for non citizens in the country illegally is simply illogical on its face. He's also argue it's not fair to charge out-of-state tuition to American-born students from other states, while allowing in-state tuition of questionable immigration status.
Supporters of the legislation argue these students came here as children, without any choice in the matter, and will remain here in Minnesota as an economic fact of life. They say out-of-state tuition is an artificial barrier which makes college unaffordable to many.
The students assert they can help the United States solve the skilled labor shortage it will face in future decades, due to current birth rate trends. So, they believe it's in the state's best interest economically to ensure the immigrant work force is better educated.
The opposing view is found in letters from viewers, such as one received in response to this story earlier in the day.
"What would other countries do if WE snuck in illegally and then our children demonstrated in their illegally-entered country for more "rights?" asked one reader.
"We cannot sustain ourselves and all the other wanna-be Americans of the world," she wrote, "I am so fed up with these greedy, brazen people."
Research released this week by Concordia University of Saint Paul suggest Mexican immigrants have made a huge economic impact on the state, even those who are here without permission.
The study, entitled "Mexican Americans in Minnesota," was authored by economics professor Bruce Corrie. He concluded Mexican Americans living in Minnesota have a combined $1 billion dollars in spending power, with $250 million of that coming from non citizens.
According to Corrie's calculations, Mexican Americans living in Minnesota paid more than $280 million in state and federal pesonal taxes in 2006. He estimates the taxes paid non citizens during the same period at $24 million - $55 million.
That would still be lower than the state of Minnesota's own estimate of the public cost of undocumented immigrants, which was estimated at $140 million - $180 million. But Corrie contends suddenly removing those non citizens from the Minnesota labor force would have a far greater negative economic impact.
Corrie also cites a 1997 study which found a net financial loss to society over the lifetime of the average immigrant without a high school education, but a net economic gain to society for those with high school or college degrees.
(Copyright 2008 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)