CONCORD — The New Hampshire House yesterday voted 188-155 to make children of undocumented immigrants eligible for in-state tuition in the state’s university system.
House Bill 474 passed despite opposition from lawmakers who said it would violate federal law and also be unfair to immigrants lawfully in the country as well as other college students competing for admission.
“The children we’re talking about, they were not born here,” said Rep. Patrick Bick, R-Salem, a first-term lawmaker delivering his first speech to the House.
Such a benefit should be reserved for those living in this country legally, Bick said.
“It’s not fair to legal immigrants,” said Rep. Ralph Boehm, R-Litchfield.
Rep. Glenn Cordelli, R-Tuftonboro, questioned the legality of the bill. “This is in violation of federal law,” Cordelli said.
Rep. Joe Duarte, R-Candia, said a $13,000 tuition break isn’t fair to students from out of state.
“What message do we send to them?” Duarte asked.
Rep. Al Baldasaro, R-Londonderry, asked Duarte if the bill opened the door to educational grants to children of illegal immigrants.
“I’d say yes,” Duarte said.
But proponents defended the bill as an education, not an immigration matter, and something that would affect very few students.
“We’re talking 15 students annually,” said Rep. Rick Ladd, R-Haverhill, a member of the Education Committee that recommended passage, 11-7.
Ladd said the bill puts strict requirements on such students.
To qualify they would have to have graduated from a New Hampshire high school, attended schools in the state at least three years, plus meet university requirements, he said.
Rep. Beatriz Pastor, D-Lyme, related her own challenges in becoming a citizen, saying it can be a daunting task.
“I was undocumented for a while,” Pastor said.
The bill would simply create a path to an education for students seeking to become citizens, Pastor argued.