The most cautious man ever to be elected Arkansas’s governor last week ordered a college education to be put out of reach of thousands of poverty-stricken but academically qualified children.
I won’t even speak his name because he has forgotten where he comes from.
With an 82 percent approval rating, he is still so frightened about his re-election prospects that he won’t risk a single point to help an “illegal” child get an education. Back in his day, a boy like him, child of a Delta-poor single mother, wasn’t valued too much more than the child of an immigrant brick layer is today. That now seems lost on the besuited lawyer-turned-governor. I’m sure someone helped his family back then, or gave him a break. I hope he hasn’t forgotten their name as well.
The governor last week raised the threat of a cut in state funding to the University of Central Arkansas and the University of Arkansas if they continued to allow in-state tuition for academically qualified Arkansas high school graduates who are undocumented immigrants. Now the colleges will have to gather Social Security numbers of every single Arkansas college student receiving in-state tuition.
And to what benefit to Arkansas?
Hundreds of students may be put out of college and certainly thousands more will be denied the chance. Arkansas is currently 50th in the percent of college graduates it turns out. With the governor’s new leadership, there’s no way Mississippi will ever be able to dislodge us.
The governor speaks of a federal law that says any benefit a state gives to an illegal immigrant must also be made available to citizens. So if we give in-state tuition to an Arkansas high school graduate whose parents are not here legally, then we have to give New Yorkers in-state tuition.
But that is not what’s happening here.
Arkansas colleges check when awarding in-state tuition to see if a student has lived in the state the required number of years and whether they have graduated from an Arkansas high school. That’s state law. They don’t research their immigration status because there is no federal requirement to do so and our money is better spent educating the children.
A May 9 letter to the colleges from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says, “DHS does not require any school to determine a student’s [immigration] status. DHS also does not require any school to request immigration status information prior to enrolling students or to report to the government if they know a student is out of status …”
Arkansas colleges don’t know the immigration status of their students and they are not required to know. Therefore they cannot be violating a federal law that is only actionable if they have knowledge of that immigration status. If the governor would treat these children as well as the military treats homosexuals, not asking as long as no one tells, then maybe they could get an education and better themselves and the state.
A few days before this debacle the governor announced his opposition to Secure Arkansas’s effort to deny benefits to undocumented immigrants, saying most of their proposals were already law. Now, without the haters signing a single petition, the governor has handed them a tragic victory. All he had to do was nothing and let the educators run the schools. Instead he has destroyed the dreams of thousands of vulnerable and promising kids, hungry for an education and a chance.
Alan Leveritt is publisher of the Arkansas Times.