Should Illegal Students Be Allowed to Stay in U.S. After Graduation?

This is a rush transcript from "America's Election HQ," July 14, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

HEATHER NAUERT, HOST: This is a hot topic we're going to hear a lot about this year and that is the big immigration debate. These days, college students have a hard time figuring out what they're going to do after graduation, of course, but some students are facing the challenge of dealing with their immigration status after they graduate. Some are worried that they will be deported.

We're talking about illegal students here in the United States going to our U.S. colleges.

Video: Watch Heather Nauert's interview

We're going to have this big debate about this, but first we're going to be joined on the phone by Marie Gonzalez. She is an undocumented student who will graduate from Westminster College in December. She is fighting for legislation for people like her to continue their education and apply for U.S. citizenship.

Marie, thanks for joining us. So, tell us quickly your story. You're in this country illegally. How did you get here and how did you get into school?

MARIE GONZALEZ, UNDOCUMENTED STUDENT (through phone): All right. My family and I are originally from Costa Rica. We came to the United States when I was five years old, and we came in legally. We had tourist visas.

We liked the States and wanted to stay. So, we started the process to become residents and eventually citizens. We moved to Missouri. We loved it very much. My parents own a restaurant.

And we thought the whole time that we were in the process, when we hired (ph) some attorneys, unfortunately, we missed a deadline, and in 2002, we were placed under deportation proceedings.

My parents were deported July 5th of 2005 and I was granted what's called a deferral on my deportation, which pushes my deportation back. That has happened three times now. And with this deferral, I'm able to go to school, to drive, to work, and so I'm a very lucky person in that I will be graduating this December, which is something I thought I would never get a chance to do.

NAUERT: OK. Quickly, tell us, who pays your tuition? Do you get in- state tuition rates? Do you pay it yourself? Are you in any kind of financial aid or somebody pitched in?

GONZALEZ: I pay it myself. I go to a private school. So, basically, I've earned some scholarships through my community service and my grades through high school. But, most of it, I mean, I have had to work very hard in order to be able to go to school. So, no one else really pays for it and that's something that I'm very proud of that I've been able to do that.

NAUERT: OK. And I assume your hope is to stay here in the United States and you want to get a job here?

GONZALEZ: I would love to be an attorney actually. I would love to be in social work. It's something I've been very passionate about for a very long time. And I feel like this is my home. I have family here, as far as I'm concerned.

NAUERT: All right, got it. Marie Gonzalez, thanks a lot for joining us.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

NAUERT: And now, to talk about that kind of thing — and best of luck to you — is California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and director of federal policy at the National Immigration Law Center, Josh Bernstein.

Congressman, let me start up with you because you've been a critic on or someone who has been a real advocate of making sure that our borders are more secure. What's your beef with this whole issue — that some of these young people who were raised in the United States, perhaps they came here illegally, but, you know, she seems like she is a good kid, going to school, wants to graduate, wants to get a job and live here in the United States. What's your beef with that?

REP. DANA ROHRABACHER, R-CALIF.: She is certainly a wonderful kid, there's no doubt about that, and there are wonderful children all over the world. We cannot afford to have tens of millions of people swarming into our country and expect that our country is going to stay the same, and that it's not going to hurt our own people.

In this case, we have so many young people swarming in, flooding into our country illegally. And this young lady, her parents came, she is an illegal immigrant. When you overstay your visa, you know you're breaking the law.

NAUERT: Yes, that's.

ROHRABACHER: You know exactly what you're doing.

We're spending in California alone, $2.2 billion educating young people who shouldn't be here, while our own kids are getting shortchanged.

NAUERT: OK. Congressman, let me pause you there, because I want to bring in Josh Bernstein.


NAUERT: Josh, thanks for joining us. What is your take on this — because it is true that some schools actually give in-state tuition rates to these young students who are illegals, therefore, American students who play by the rules won't get access to this cheaper tuition — what is your take on all this?

JOSH BERNSTEIN, NAT'L IMMIGRATION LAW CENTER: Well, it is to our benefit for these kids, kids like Marie to be able to get, to be able to — you know, we have a choice. Are we are going to educate them or are we going to spend Homeland Security dollars, you know, chasing after honor students?

NAUERT: But at the cost of taxpayers and also at the cost of other students who wouldn't get those slots.

BERNSTEIN: No, actually, it's a benefit to taxpayers because we've already invested in them when they were in elementary school and high school and then growing up here. Now, we're going to have a chance to reap the benefits now that they're, you know, they're going to go to school, they're going to be able to make their contributions in taxes, et cetera. If they're here legally, or if we keep them in the shadows, it will be harder for them to do that.

And, you know, why would we want to educate them and invest in them that way and then ship them out to another country to get the benefit of, you know, and why shouldn't Marie, the people she grew up with, her pastor, her.

NAUERT: Let's bring the congressman back in. Congressman, what do you think about that? It sounds like she's, you know, just trying to be a good kid.

ROHRABACHER: Well, just like all the rest of the illegal immigrants, they're very — 99 percent of them are wonderful people, but if we give Marie her education as I say, if we spent — by the way, it's not just in- state tuition, for every dollar of tuition a kid pays in this state, the state taxpayers are paying five times that amount. So, we're spending $2.2 billion to educate young people like Marie and.

NAUERT: But Josh says it might save us money actually because we're paying for their junior high and their high school.

ROHRABACHER: Does anyone believe, include Josh, believe that if we keep paying and giving benefits like this to these young people like Marie or wonderful people that we won't have hundreds of millions — where do we draw the line? Eventually, we have to draw the line. It's bankrupting California right now.

Right now, our kids are getting shortchanged on their education because they're paying for other kids who shouldn't be here.


NAUERT: OK, guys, we're going to have to leave it there.

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, thanks so much for joining us.

Josh, we'll get back to that another time. Thank you for joining us. Appreciate it.

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