Our federal government is increasingly likely to authorize a pathway to citizenship for as many as 11 million undocumented residents — including up to 250,000 in Minnesota — who: 1) register with the Immigration and Naturalization Service; 2) pass a criminal-background check; 3) pay back taxes and penalties; 4) go to the back of the line and apply for a visa or green card, and 5) learn English.
The process may take up to 15 years for each qualified applicant — and they may work here legally in the meantime.
Immigration is a federal issue. Yet the federal government has chosen, for years, to only selectively enforce laws prohibiting illegal immigration. For example, in June 2012, President Obama ended deportations of people younger than 30 who came to the United States before age 16. Security along the southwest border with Mexico has been all but neglected, and attempts by states such as Arizona to step into the breach have been aggressively opposed.
To our federal partners: Please make no change without first securing our borders, or we should expect yet another tsunami of illegal immigration. And if you pass a new set of immigration laws, please also adopt a workable and fully financed plan to actually enforce them. Don’t leave states in the lurch to deal with the consequences of illegal immigration.
In Minnesota, thousands of families support themselves on a cash system only — no bank accounts, tax returns or tax withholding. Many drive illegally, with no license or insurance. And many Minnesota employers turn a blind eye to legal requirements for employees.
A look at the dark underside of the issue reveals the haunted victims of human trafficking, black market labor, and the silenced victims and witnesses of crime, especially domestic abuse, who refuse to call for help for fear of being deported. Unfortunately, illegal immigration also has brought illegal drugs, violent gangs and prostitution rings into our communities. There is nothing easy about this issue.
But federal and state governments have given tacit consent for millions to live beneath the legal radar. We have spent billions of taxpayer dollars on K-12 education for all Minnesota residents. We also provide cash assistance and health care for Minnesota residents unable to obtain insurance or pay the costs. These basic levels of education and health care are constitutionally or legally mandated — regardless of immigration status.
And now we have thousands of talented young Minnesotans, who may have come here illegally as babies from Mexico, Central America, Asia and elsewhere, but have grown up in Rochester, Chaska, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Marshall and other Minnesota cities. Many have worked hard, are graduating from our high schools and now want to attend Minnesota colleges.
Having raised my own four kids, I have a good sense of how much these students have accomplished. But what is next for their undocumented classmates? If they have earned admission to a Minnesota college, have they also earned an opportunity to attend at the same in-state tuition rates as other Minnesota students? Or do we consign them indefinitely to an illegal subculture?
I have voted “no” on the “DREAM Act” in the past. But with the federal government heading toward major change, it makes sense to craft new Minnesota policy authorizing in-state tuition rates to dovetail with new federal laws — so long as we insist on important requirements:
• The bill in the state Senate currently requires a three-year Minnesota residency for undocumented students. This is a fair expectation.
• Qualifying students must register for the draft and register for the soon-to-be-approved INS pathway to citizenship.
• Qualifying students should also follow the federal guidelines and file the same Free Application for Federal Student Aid Form (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for financial aid.
• Educational opportunities also should be expanded for all Minnesota students by requiring the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to maintain at least a 75 percent Minnesota student ratio. (MnSCU exceeds this, but the U’s ratio is just 63 percent Minnesota students.)
A quality education for as many Minnesotans as possible is, in my view, the core mission of the University of Minnesota. In 2012-13, the state appropriated $1.1 billion to the U. As long as taxpayers fund so much of its budget, it is right to demand that the university educate more Minnesota students, including the as-yet undocumented youth who have grown up in our midst.
Our business community tells us that to be competitive nationally and internationally, Minnesota needs more graduates with degrees in math, science and technology. Using Minnesota tax dollars to educate students from California, New York, India or China should not be a priority, because these students are far less likely to join the Minnesota workforce after graduation.
We have talented kids right here in Minnesota who have been educated in our schools, have earned admission to our colleges and have proven that they want to make Minnesota their permanent home.
With this bill we can make an inspired change, create sound incentives, recognize the value of work and talent, and open a more promising future for all Minnesotans.
Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.