Bill would limit college funding for undocumented immigrants

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COLUMBIA - Missouri could deny financial aid for higher education to students in the country illegally, depending on the fate of House Bill 187.

Representative Scott Fitzpatrick (R - Shell Knob) proposed HB 187 in response to President Obama's 2012 policy that offers those who entered the coutry illegally before the age of sixteen an alternative to deportation. Under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, eligible illegal immigrants could apply for a renewable two-year work permit.

This quasi-citizenship has raised questions regarding several social programs, especially financial aid for post-secondary education. Fitzpatrick told KOMU 8 the devil is in the details. Starting this fall, the Missouri Department of Higher Education will recognize those as "lawfully present" as eligible for secondary education financial aid including the A+ Scholarship program and Bright Flight.

Fitzpatrick said the threshold for government aid varies depending on what government organization you ask. Those "lawfully present" are not recognized by the IRS as able to receive subsidies for health care, Fitzpatrick said. Additionally, Fitzpatrick said there are plenty of current Missouri citizens ineligible for A+ funding, such as home-schooled students. The proposed bill would amend the wording "legally present" to "have been conferred lawful status," making it impossible for a non-citizen to receive state aid for higher education. 

Fitzpatrick also said this comes at a time when the A+ program is experiencing financial setbacks. Students currently in the program may end up having to pay out of pocket for classes in upcoming semesters, and adding an entirely new group of students as eligible would make matters worse, according to Fitzpatrick. 

The passage of HB 187 would keep everything the way it is now, Fitzpatrick said. The bill would not remove anyone currently in the system or reduce aid to those already receiving it. 

Missouri isn't the only state grappling with these issues; Alabama and South Carolina prohibit illegal immigrants from attending public colleges and universities. Arizona, Georgia and Indiana ban undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates. 

On the opposing side, 18 states have laws in place granting undocumented students eligibility to receive in-state tuition rates.