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Budget decisions will determine illegal immigrant's college fate
Students study Thursday afternoon, March 3, 2011 at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. /Gregory Shaver gshaver@journaltimes.com

RACINE - For most of Christian's childhood he didn't know he wasn't a citizen like most of his American classmates.

The 17-year-old Racine senior, who asked that his last name be withheld for fear of deportation, knew he crossed over from Mexico to America when he was about 5 and that his parents told him not to take any day for granted here.

But it took him until junior high to understand that he is an illegal immigrant. It's a status that will soon likely mean a difference of about $7,500 per year in tuition and likely the end of his dream of attending a university.

In the proposed state budget, Gov. Scott Walker repeals a part of former Gov. Jim Doyle's last budget that gave in-state tuition at state universities and technical colleges to illegal immigrants who graduate from Wisconsin high schools.

That proposal would mean Christian, who lives on the north side of Racine, would need to pay out-of-state tuition, or $14,196 per year based on this year's University of Wisconsin-Parkside tuition.

"I just couldn't do it," said Christian, who had planned to go to Parkside for English literature.

The increased tuition is especially hard hitting for him and other illegal immigrants because they are unable to receive most state or federal financial aid. They must pay it out-of-pocket.

"It feels unfair," Christian said. "I've been here for so long, I am American. I just don't have the paper. That is the only thing I'm lacking."

He is not alone, said Al Levie, a history teacher at Horlick High School. He knows Christian through their involvement with Youth Empowered in the Struggle, YES, a youth contingent of the immigration rights group, Voces de la Frontera.

There are about 25 students in Racine area schools in the same situation as Christian, said Levie, the advisor for YES.

As a teacher, Levie said it's difficult to watch these hard-working students lose their dreams like they would in the budget proposal.

They work very hard to get good grades and the dream is denied," Levie said.

But state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, said it's a financial decision.

"I wish them the very best," Vos said. "Everyone wants them to succeed but it comes down to what taxpayers can afford."

He said eliminating in-state tuition for illegal immigrants saves money. For every student who receives in-state tuition there is a subsidy, he said.

"They can still go to college. They just can't get the taxpayer subsidy," Vos said.

Only a few dozen illegal immigrants are paying for college at the in-state tuition rate, David Giroux, spokesman for the UW System, said.

But Vos said eliminating in-state tuition for illegal immigrants would still save money and he is "pretty confident" it will pass as part of the final budget.

Christian said if it passes he will go to Gateway Technical College, but he is still hoping it will not.  

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