There’s a reasonable case to be made for granting in-state tuition rates at public universities to illegal immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents.
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick made that case to the Legislature last year. He lost.
Now Gov. Patrick has done what all leaders who pay lip-service to democracy do. When they can’t win in the court of public opinion or in the legislative arena, they enact their rejected policies by fiat.
It is profoundly undemocratic. Rule by decree was once the exclusive province of tyrants. Now it is practiced by those elected by the people, leaders who wrap themselves in the trappings of democracy — but respect it only to the extent that it grants them their will.
Monday, Patrick notified the state Board of Education that illegal immigrants who obtain work permits under a new federal program and can prove residence in Massachusetts will qualify for in-state tuition at public colleges and universities. Previously, illegal immigrants had to pay the higher out-of-state tuition to attend those schools.
The savings can be substantial. In-state tuition at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is $13,230. Nonresidents pay $26,645.
In 2004, the Legislature passed a bill to allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition rates but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. Subsequent attempts to pass such a bill have failed several times, despite Patrick’s urging passage at a legislative hearing last year.
The idea of tuition breaks for illegal immigrants has been consistently unpopular. A 2006 Boston Globe/WBZ poll taken during the race for governor showed 59 percent of respondents opposed to the discounts. A January 2012 Pulse Opinion poll showed 67 percent opposed.
The rejection of tuition discounts for illegals by a prior governor, legislators, and the general public was not enough to dissuade Patrick from pressing on to achieve his policy objectives. Patrick says his decree merely extends an existing state policy that grants in-state tuition rates to those who hold valid work permits and live in Massachusetts. The federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, itself an end-run around failed legislation, grants illegal immigrants aged 30 and younger two-year reprieves from deportation if they arrived before age 16, had a clean record and met other requirements. The federal program also makes these immigrants eligible for work permits.