Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has made it official — undocumented immigrants will be able to attend public colleges in the state at the same tuition rates as other residents.
After signing the measure Tuesday, Kitzhaber declared: "My friends, the dream has become a reality."
Starting next school year, undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children and graduated from an Oregon high school will pay the subsidized college tuition charged to Oregon residents. That's a savings of about $20,000 a year. The measure applies to the state's seven public universities.
Still, affording college would be a challenge for many families because undocumented immigrants would remain ineligible for state and federal financial aid.
Proponents say young people shouldn't be priced out of college because their parents chose to immigrate illegally. Critics say the state shouldn't be subsidizing a college education for people who violated immigration laws.
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The debate in the state Senate offered a glimpse of the contrasting views in Oregon — as well as nationwide — on the issue of giving a break to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as minors.
"The people who were generally opposed to this are an older generation who believe in the rule of law and in the Constitution," said Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who voted against the bill, according to the Statesman Journal. "I believe they need to be represented today."
But State Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat who also sponsored the original bill in 2003, said: “All they are asking for is a chance; they are not asking for guarantees. All they are asking for is to go to a public university and to work yet again to become better citizens.”
“This is the only country, the only society they have ever known,” Courtney said.“But when they get to a public university in this state, we say, ‘Not you, you cannot go.'"
At least 14 other states have similar laws. Colorado's Legislature approved a tuition bill, and Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he'll sign it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.