PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When Rhode Island became the 13th state to allow in-state tuition for illegal immigrants at public colleges, supporters heralded the move as one that would give students the kind of advanced education they need to succeed in the work force.
But students who are not here legally may still face a major obstacle even with the benefit of a college degree: Many have no immediate pathway to legal status and, under current federal immigration law, employers cannot legally hire them.
“I know of students who have graduated magna cum laude and top honors in their colleges, but right now they’re working minimum wage in restaurants,” said Antonio Albizures-Lopez, 20, who came to the U.S. from Guatemala when he was one.
Albizures-Lopez, who is pursuing legal residency, says the best solution is passage of federal legislation, known as the DREAM Act, which provides a pathway to legal residency for college students.
The Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education, which oversees the state’s three public higher education institutions, unanimously approved in-state tuition for illegal immigrants last week, effective in the fall of 2012. The General Assembly had failed repeatedly to take action on legislation that’s been introduced year after year.
Eleven states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Utah and Washington — have laws allowing the children of illegal immigrants to receive in-state rates if they meet certain requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oklahoma allows in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants under a state Board of Regents policy.