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Without citizenship, Perry’s defense of in-state tuition for undocumented students falls flat

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/RickPerry_Thumb.jpgTexas Gov. Rick Perry has faced criticism from both GOP presidential primary opponents and activist groups for support for in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, but defended his position by saying the law helps provide opportunities for more meaningful employment, and a stronger workforce overall.

Students should not be left on the “government dole,” he said in one debate, when they could be in “institutions of higher learning, paying in-state tuition, pursuing citizenship.”

In Texas the law was passed with overwhelming support from the legislature, and twelve other states around the country have passed similar laws — which can reduce a student’s cost of attending college by thousands of dollars — based on similar rationale.

A recent study by the UCLA North American Integration and Development Center estimated the total earnings of federal DREAM Act beneficiaries over the course of their working lives would be between $1.4 trillion and $3.6 trillion. The Congressional Budget Office also estimates that the DREAM Act would “would reduce deficits by about $1.4 billion over the 2011-2020 period.”

But two University of Houston researchers have found the Texas law has led to few real economic gains for undocumented immigrants in the decade since it was passed.

“Unchanged federal policy on financial aid and legalization for undocumented students may dampen the state laws’ benefits,” UH economics professors Aimee Chin and Chinhui Juhn write in the 2010 study. Those benefits are so small the impact isn’t even unmeasurable, the study says.

In an interview with the Texas Independent, Chin said that by “peeling away the causal relationship of the impact of the law,” the authors of the study thought they’d “get big effects.” Instead, she said, they were “surprised we didn’t find more of an increase in enrollment.”

In an environment where undocumented students can’t gain citizenship, “the return on investment is relatively slow,” said Chin. The economic impact is minimal because it would be difficult for employees to justify hiring undocumented workers with bachelor’s degrees.

According to Chin, the “current debate about these laws providing in-state tuition for undocumented students is not really about the costs and benefits of the laws themselves, and more about sentiments about immigration.” Strong opinions and emotions have colored the debate, and people base “their opinions about immigration rather than based on the empirical evidence on the policy”

“Obviously politics cannot be taken out of policy-making decisions, but I do hope that on the margin, policy makers will consider scientifically rigorous evidence when making decisions,” said Chin.

Maria Fernanda Cabello, an undocumented student at Texas A&M University, told the Huffington Post that while she’s “thankful that he signed the in-state tuition into law,” his lack of support for a federal version has left them “kind of in limbo.” This echoed the sentiments from other Aggies in interviews with the Texas Independent.

Without a pathway to citizenship, they say, Perry’s defense of in-state tuition for undocumented students falls flat.

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