SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Senate voted Thursday to allow some young illegal immigrants to pay resident college tuition if they were brought to the United States as children, sending the measure to Gov. John Kitzhaber who has promised to sign it.
The Senate's approval in a 19-11 vote comes 10 years after the measure was first proposed. Immigrant-rights advocates erupted in cheers the moment the bill passed, their applause echoing through the Capitol as they congratulated each other, hugged lawmakers and posed for photos.
"I can't believe it finally happened," said Karla Castaneda, a junior at Parkrose High School in Portland whose family immigrated illegally when she was 4. "Hope is with me. I know I will be able to go to college."
Critics said the state shouldn't be subsidizing a college education for people who violated the law and won't be able to work in the United States.
"Some of these folks who believe in the Constitution and believe in the rule of law need to be represented today," said Sen. Tim Knopp, a Bend Republican who voted against the measure.
At least 14 other states allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition. Colorado's Legislature approved a similar bill this month, and Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he'll sign it.
Illegal immigrants in Oregon pay college tuition at the rate charged to nonresident students, which is about $20,000 more than the cost for Oregon residents.
Starting next school year, the measure would allow students to qualify for in-state tuition if they've attended an Oregon high school for at least three years and lived in the United States for at least five. They'd also have to sign an affidavit swearing they'll apply to legalize their immigration status as soon as they are eligible.
Illegal immigrants can't legally work in the United States, but proponents say President Barack Obama's push for a federal immigration overhaul could create a pathway to citizenship for many. They say children have no control over the decision to immigrate without legal documents.
"It is just plain wrong to hold hostage the future of kids and young adults because of choices their parents have made," said Sen. Chris Edwards, D-Eugene.
The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Office estimated that the bill would increase the state's revenue by $335,000 over the next two years and by an additional $1.6 million between 2015 and 2017. The Oregon University System estimated that 38 illegal immigrant students would take advantage of the resident tuition rates during the next two years and 80 more students would take part in the two years after that.
Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said he was skeptical of the numbers and expected many more illegal immigrants to enroll.
"Many of the people that we represent have a lot of angst about this bill," Whitsett said. "Many are angry about what they perceive to be the inequity represented by the concept of this bill."
Illegal immigrants would not be eligible for state or federal financial aid, and they'd be subject to the same university entrance requirements as other applicants.
"They're not asking for guarantees. They're not asking for commitments. They simply want a chance," said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, who first proposed the measure in 2003.