Education Bill for Illegal Immigrants Stirs Debate

Illegal immigrants pursuing a college degree would be given legal status in the United States under legislation making its way through Congress.

But critics are blasting the bill, saying those who cross the border illegally could eventually pay less than U.S. citizens to get a college degree. They say legal status would give immigrants access to student aid and possible breaks on in-state tuition for state schools.

The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) and Chris Cannon (R-Utah), would provide relief only for students under 21 who have lived in America more than five years, and who are currently in the country.

The legislation also would give states the right to decide whom it charges for in-state tuition, which could pave the way for illegal immigrants to get discounts on college costs.

"It's hard to conceive of another country where people can come illegally and have all other taxpayers footing their bill," said Arnold Steinberg, chief strategist with the California Civil Rights Initiative.

Berman and Roybal-Allard refused to speak with Fox News. But Berman said in a statement that the bill is designed for those not eligible for aid and who cannot afford out-of-state tuition.

"We all suffer when good students in our communities are prevented from completing their education and realizing their potential," he said.

But critics maintain that could mean a Mexican citizen studying in California would pay less  than an American citizen from Iowa studying at the same university.

Steinberg said Americans will, in effect, subsidize the education of illegal immigrants, even when struggling to finance the education of their own children. "What it really means is that all distinctions should disappear and the whole idea of citizenship has lost its worth and value," he said.

In his statement, Berman said the law would help the children of those who crossed the border, who he said had no choice but to come with their parents.

"This is not an amnesty," he said. "Amnesty is for people who have done something wrong. These kids had no choice."

The bill, introduced May 21, has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and the Committee on Education and the Workforce.