Witkos supports help for students to “live the American dream” [Courant]

June 4, 2015

Hartford Courant
A divided state Senate gave final legislative approval on Friday to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to make it easier for undocumented immigrants to receive lower-priced, in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

Connecticut currently charges lower priced, in-state tuition rates to students without legal immigration status as long as they have attended high school in the state for four years. The bill approved by the Senate would change that requirement to two years. It would also extend in-state tuition to victims of human trafficking and crimes in their home countries.

Supporters framed the issue as an economic development initiative as well as a matter of basic fairness. “The governor is proud to have led on this bill, because the legislation passed today moves Connecticut forward tomorrow,” said Malloy’s spokesman, Devon Puglia. “It helps us build a brighter future not just for our children now, but for our economy in the long-term. Most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.”

Senate President Martin Looney said the bill signifies “an important revision to invest in our future.”

“We can never have too many highly motivated young people…for the increasingly demanding future for life in our highly sophisticated technological society,” Looney said.

The law offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants took effect in 2011. Since then, a number of other states have adopted similar laws, but several have shorter residency requirements than the four years currently required in Connecticut.

Sen. Len Fasano, the chamber’s Republican leader, said the four-year threshold shows a commitment to building a life in Connecticut; he said he is not sure two years brings the same commitment.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 19 to 13. One Democrat, Sen. Paul Doyle of Wethersfield, voted no and three Republicans–Sens. Clark Chapin of New Milford, Art Linares of Westbrook and Kevin Witkos of Canton–supported the measure.

Witkos noted that many of the state’s public colleges and universities have empty seats that could be filled by undocumented students. Moreover, he said, the potential pool of students who would be eligible under the new requirements set forth by the bill is fairly small.

But, Witkos added, the change is tremendously important to members of that small group. “Some of these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to not only further their education but to live the American dream,” he said.