Write On Grrrl

Voice of Empowerment. Not reason.

In-State Tuition--No Green Card Required

There's certain things that I just don't understand in this life. The mass appeal of sit-coms. How an all white church in rural Kentucky recently banned mixed-race couples, then claimed they weren't racist. And why, in Rhode Island, there's so much anger towards a recent policy granting illegal immigrant students in-state tuition at our local colleges.

Seems to me, that our goal is to have an educated population. You know, so we can attract some industry and further tick down this ridiculous unemployment rate, which according to the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, stands at 10.4 percent for October 2011.

I have lived in Rhode Island my whole life. Don't cry for me Argentina. I think that it's a pretty special place to call home, with miles of beaches, a creative capital city, dedication to historic preservation and outstanding eats. The sad part is that not everyone who wants to stay, can. And as the unemployment rate continues to climb, so does my long distance phone bill.

Part of the problem is that Rhode Islanders are very routed in tradition. This works when we're sipping a Del's lemonade along the sidelines of the Bristol 4th of July parade, but not so much when we're trying to keep our economy from completely tanking into Narragansett Bay.

Yes, the industrial revolution did start here, thank you Samuel Slater, for building the first successful water powered cotton spinning mill in North America on the banks of the Blackstone River in 1793. And, truth is, that industrial jump off carried us quite far, even through my early childhood growing up in Pascoag. The prosperity of the mills in my small hometown created a vibrant downtown with a jewelry store, clothing boutique, hardware store, paint and paper shop, a furniture store and two department stores.

But no more. My childhood Main Street? Partially demoed, with a tackle shop laying claim as the industry. We are one depressed state.

So why doesn't education seem like a good thing--for anyone who wants to work hard for it? There's no free rides here; the application process is the same as it is for native born students. First, you have to be accepted into college in order to attend. And once enrolled, all those requirements for success are the same: study hard, don't party too much and get up for that eight o'clock class.

The only difference for children of illegal immigrants next September, comes from the bursar's office, as they become eligible for in-state rates. And there are stipulations. They must have attended a high school in the state for at least three years and graduated or received a GED. Students must also commit to seek legal status as soon as they are eligible, or lose their resident tuition. Seems fair to me.

So, which part of this should make me angry? I can't help thinking that the real issue is one of keeping people in their place, because the truth is, there's a very real possibility oh, ye, of no degree, that you're going to be somehow edged out by this non-white immigrant population attending your state school.  A possibility? Sure. But, in your linear thinking, you're not considering two things: a) Is the solution really to keep everyone down together? and b) If it bothers you so much, how about you go out and get that college degree yourself?

Personally, I'm thrilled by the progressiveness of our state. I understand the gifts brought by diversity. I'm willing to bet that this small piece of kindness, offered up by the people of Rhode Island, will create a fierce loyalty to the state, by those it benefits.

Like Brian.

My husband met Brian during his work as a juvenile probation officer. Indeed, Brian was an illegal immigrant, but all things considered, he had a pretty decent reason. He was trying to escape his life serving as a teenage soldier in the Guatemalan army, with who he had fought at the age of fourteen.

Let that sink in for a minute.

Brian did well here. His probation? For a minor issue that was quickly resolved. He truly appreciated and took advantage of the limited opportunities available to him, graduating from high school, with an intense desire to go to college. Only he couldn't, so back to Guatemala he went. And guess what? I still hope that someday, he returns.

And while I'm sorry that Brian may have missed this opportunity to continue his education in Rhode Island, I'm certain that there are many students, with a story like his, that will make our state a richer place--way, way beyond any financial bottom line.