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The Oregonian: Tuition equity supporters offer emotional testimony at legislative hearing
Author: Yuxing Zheng
Posted: February 18, 2013

 

Read the original article in The Oregonian here.

SALEM -- Parkrose High School junior Karla Castaneda takes Advanced Placement classes and participates in mock trial, theater, varsity water polo and recently helped organize a fundraiser for Special Olympics.

"Some days, I wake up and wonder if everything I'm doing matters," she told the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee Wednesday morning.

That's because Castaneda is an undocumented immigrant and would not be able to afford to attend an Oregon college if she is charged out-of-state tuition.

Castaneda and more than 300 supporters packed two hearing rooms and adjacent hallways at the Capitol this morning to support a tuition equity bill. Opponents offered equally vociferous testimony, but many complained they weren't given equal time to speak.

House Bill 2787 would grant in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who have attended school in the country for at least five years; studied at an Oregon high school for at least three years, and graduated; and filed an affidavit with an Oregon university stating that the student has applied for citizenship or will apply as soon as the student is eligible.

A similar bill passed the Senate in 2011 but died in a House committee. Legislative leaders expect it to win approval this session.

"I think of the opportunities that are being closed when I work as much or more than other students," Castaneda said. "I didn't do anything wrong. I attend school. I get good grades, I help out my community. If tuition equity passes, it would change my life."

Her emotional testimony left some audience members in tears.

Supporters this session are emphasizing the educational and economic benefits of the legislation. Business leaders and the presidents of the University of Oregon and Portland State University all spoke out in support of tuition equity.

Opponents see no reason to offer benefits to people who are in the country illegally. Many also argue that it would be unfair for out-of-state students who pay higher tuition rates.

Oregon State University student Gabriella Morrongiello said passage of the bill would result in a class-action lawsuit seeking compensation for out-of-state students. Morrongiello is a California resident.

"If this legislation is passed, enrollment in Oregon universities will skyrocket," Morrongiello said. "Much of those costs will be shifted to out-of-state students. That is not tuition equity. That is confiscation and redistribution."