Window on the West
by Mary Rupert
Ricardo Quinones is a senior at Emporia State University. He is a college student who constantly must be concerned about whether he will be allowed to stay in school, not because of grades but because of where he was born.
The in-state tuition bill repeal that is expected to be proposed by some legislators in this coming session would mean Ricardo and other students might not be able to afford college. Quinones came to a Kansas City, Kan., legislative forum to describe his situation on Jan. 5 at the South Library, 3104 Strong.
An undocumented student, Quinones came to America as a child with his parents, who were seeking medical treatment for him, trying to save his life. (He said he was eventually diagnosed not with a more serious illness that his doctors in Mexico believed, but as lactose intolerant.) He graduated from Raymore-Peculiar High School on the Missouri side of the Greater Kansas City area and attended Longview Community College.
“I was banned from the Missouri side,” Ricardo said, meaning that Missouri changed its laws to exclude students who did not have Social Security numbers (and who were not documented residents) from the public colleges, even though many of them had lived almost all of their lives in the state. Some of the area’s institutions allow Kansas City area residents on the Missouri side to pay the Kansas resident tuition rate. Ricardo then went to Johnson County Community College, where he received an associate degree. He later attended the University of Kansas for a short while, but could not afford the tuition.
“I just want to finish,” he said. Quinones, whose mother is a teacher, said he eventually wants to become a high school counselor or a psychiatrist. He was at the forum with two other students and others involved with the Kansas-Missouri Dream Alliance.
Another student at the forum, Oscar Gutierrez, who graduated from Bishop Miege High School and attends Johnson County Community College, said, “If it’s repealed, I would have to leave, because it would be too high. I believe I have earned the right to be called an American, and also a Kansan.”
A third student, Itzel Lopez, said, “We love our country. This is where we have grown up.” She said the students would become assets to America.
State Rep. Louis Ruiz, D-31st Dist., said there is a push this year from some legislators to eliminate the in-state tuition law. The law passed some years ago allowed residents who were not citizens, including many students who spent most of their lives here and graduated from local high schools, to pay the same tuition rate as other residents of the state. Some of the conservative House members who pushed for the repeal of the in-state tuition law are now senators, Ruiz said.
From a very practical perspective, it’s to society’s benefit to help educate these students, according to Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, D-36th Dist. She said these are students who will be here regardless of the laws that are passed. “Wouldn’t we want them to be educated and have jobs and pay taxes?” she asked.
The in-state tuition provision has wide support from the Wyandotte County legislative delegation, but local legislators also told Quinones and other students that they should talk to legislators from other parts of the state who were in favor of taking away the in-state tuition provision.
That is one of the problems, according to the Dream Alliance. It’s not always easy to get on a legislative committee agenda or to get the ear of a legislator from another area.
Last year, the repeal did not make it through the committees. Raymond Rico, a Kansas City, Kan., attorney who accompanied the students, said that this year, after the last election, the repeal could have enough votes to pass.
“We need your help,” Rico told the legislators. “We need you to help open doors and speak to the governor.”
He said the in-state tuition law is good for Kansas, it helps the state because residents are able to earn more and pay more in taxes. Sometimes it can take a couple of decades for a person to become a citizen. With recent changes in the federal rules applying to undocumented persons, who now may be eligible for a work permit, the students may be able to use their college degrees to work in Kansas.
“Now, to repeal the in-state tuition does not make economic sense,” he said. “It’s a punitive effort to repeal.”
He said that despite the numbers increasing on the side of the repeal, the in-state tuition law would not go down without a fight.
To contact Mary Rupert, editor, email email@example.com.