Opinion: Maryland 1, Morris County 0

Gordon MacInnes | April 28, 2011 | Opinion
By opting to charge illegal aliens triple tuition, the County College of Morris takes a big step backward

The “independent” Board of Trustees of the County College of Morris met in April to decide that illegal aliens will pay triple the tuition that in-state residents fork over.

The board was helped to this unsavory decision by the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders and some Tea Party-like petitioners. How else to explain that the trustee’s latest vote reversed a February resolution to charge Morris residents who are illegal aliens the same rate as everyone else.

While we’re at it, what happened to making sure the system rewards those who play by the rules?

Those rules are simple enough to understand. If you are a kid between five and 18 in New Jersey or any other state you are entitled to attend public school regardless of the immigration status of your parents. This has been the settled law since a U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1982. Public schools are not free to pry into that status, nor may they categorize or segregate students on the basis of that status.

The hope and expectation is that all students in New Jersey will be sufficiently well educated to master college-level instruction. This hope only works, of course, if a student who succeeds in high school can actually afford to enroll in college. The trustees at CCM just ended that hope for most students in Morris County whose parents brought them to the United States — presumably to give them a better chance than they had.

Those parents run incredible risks, living in the shadows with the ever-present chance that they may be found out and deported. They come to work because they can earn more here even in unskilled positions than they can back home. These families pay taxes—sales taxes, property taxes, social security taxes (if they use a phony social security card to get a job). Many illegal aliens enlist in the military. And why not? They have grown up as Americans. Now they are to be punished for coming along with their parents.

The same week that CCM tripled the cost of college for Morris County residents with undocumented status, Maryland enacted a law requiring its community colleges to charge in-state tuition for kids who are illegal.

The new law sets some conditions: the students must have attended a Maryland high school for at least three years, graduated, their parents must have paid income taxes over that time, and the boys must have registered with Selective Service. If they finish community college, they can apply to public four-year universities with the same chance for favorable tuition rates.

Maryland is catching up with New Jersey when it comes to household income, educational performance, research and development, and infrastructure. This latest law reflects the attitude of a state that says “we seek to reward the children of families that work hard, take risks, and nurture the educational opportunities of their children.”

Maryland is not alone. Ten states have laws that grant children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition rates. They include New York, Illinois, California, Washington and New Mexico, which is not surprising given their diversity and more progressive political culture. But when Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Utah and Nebraska join the list, one must begin to wonder about New Jersey’s loss of common sense and competitiveness. The last three sessions of the New Jersey legislature have failed to act on a measure to mandate that all public colleges and universities — not just community colleges — charge in-state rates with conditions very similar to Maryland’s new law.

Two-thirds of all foreign-born Americans live in New Jersey and five other states. This has proven to be a huge economic benefit to us (Asian-Indian households, for example, are the highest earning in the state). In fact, the nation has prospered from the contributions of smart foreign nationals drawn to the world’s greatest research universities, enough of whom stay to become entrepreneurs, scientists, and researchers. But we have also gained from the 12 to 14 million undocumented aliens, primarily from Mexico and Central America, who perform low to semi-skilled jobs not wanted by Americans.

The education of the children of undocumented parents is a moral issue. A society that preaches opportunity and individual responsibility should not punish children for the sins of their fathers. But it is also an economic issue. We need every ambitious, well-educated student we can find. The most important determinant of business location is not tax rates — as most politicians would have you believe — but the quality of the labor force. New Jersey dare not lose its comparative advantage in this area, less we remain in a permanent state of high unemployment and low growth.

Maryland is moving aggressively to improve its labor force. Morris County just voted to go backward.