Equal opportunity

The Oregon Senate could vote this week on a bill that would allow the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at Oregon universities. The measure would cost taxpayers nothing, while allowing the best and brightest young immigrants the chance to contribute more to Oregon's future prosperity.

Despite the overheated rhetoric of its opponents, Senate Bill 742 gives away nothing but an opportunity. Illegal immigrants are and would continue to be ineligible for state and federal scholarships.

The children of immigrants who came to this country without documents broke no law. Their parents did.

Over the years, they attended school here, learned English and became, for all intents and purposes, Americans.

SB 742 would apply to students who have attended Oregon schools for at least three years. They would be required to apply for legal residency before becoming eligible, so they can work legally in the state upon graduation. They would be required to apply within three years of graduating from high school.

And they would have to be admitted, meeting the same standards as any other applicant.

The bill would give them nothing but the chance to pay tuition — just like any other student. It would merely allow them to pay the state resident tuition rate rather than the rate charged to out-of-state and international students.

At the University of Oregon, that's the difference between $8,190 and $25,830 for one year.

Critics claim the bill would cost the state money. That makes sense only if you believe the children of immigrants, ineligible for scholarships, can afford to pay $25,830 for one year of school. The reality is, they simply won't go to college.

But they won't leave, either. This is the only country they know. So doesn't it make sense to give them a shot at a college education, which will allow them to earn higher incomes and pay higher taxes as adults?

University system officials estimate their campuses would admit three students next fall if the bill passes, and 33 the following year. No single campus would take on more than 15 additional students, and no faculty would need to be hired.

Oregon is breaking no new ground with this measure. Ten other states already have similar laws, including Washington and California. And the bill has bipartisan support in the Senate.

SB 742 offers the children of immigrants nothing their classmates are not already entitled to — the chance to be the most productive Oregonians they can be. It's the right thing to do.

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