Gov. Mike Beebe is not going to get left on the immigrant issue.
After the Associated Press noted yesterday that there conceivably could be new damaging impact from the proposed anti-immigrant initiative -- a constitutional prohibition that could apply to unauthorized kids attending Arkansas colleges at in-state tuition -- he called in the new director of the Department of Higher Education and told him to crack the whip. (Beebe's direct role in spurring the action wasn't clear in the D-G account this morning, but the wire service provides the detail.) Marching orders to the new man: Tell the colleges to root out these desperate criminals or lose state funding. Beebe had no idea this was going on, his mouthpiece insists.
This is reminisicent of when Beebe, as a senator, professed utter shock and amazement about the get-rich insiders' ad litem scheme crafted by Mike Todd, Nick Wilson and Co. Everybody knew something about it. Nothing passed the Senate then without knowledge, if not tacit approval, of Beebe and his now chief of staff Morril Harriman.
Now he says he had no idea that Arkansas colleges were winking at the possibility that some Arkansas high school graduates, brought to the U.S. by working parents, might not have citizenship or valid immigration status. UCA President Lu Hardin talked proudly and often about it. Officials from various UA campuses talked about it. (I can distinctly recall a rep from one campus calling the Times to say, "Please add the next time you mention UCA's policy that we do the same thing.") It's simply not credible that Beebe had no idea this was going on.
The wink was the better course. I still don't believe the law requires establishing proof of citizenship to enter college or that it creates an affirmative duty to sniff out whether somebody might be seeking in-state tuition (though indubitably an Arkansas resident) without benefit of federal papers. The law indeed probably requires that a campus not knowingly provide in-state tuition to an unauthorized immigrant, but that has carefully been avoided.
So the lingering questions: Are the Arkansas campuses now going to follow the cumbersome ID-checking process required of private business? Or will they merely require students to write down a Social Security number? Will they check those numbers? Will Higher Ed bring on new staff to check that every college form has 1) a Social Security number and 2) that it is a bona fide number?
Beebe, to his credit, still opposes the punitive, inefficent and needless petition to hammer people in Arkansas seeking better lives. But his pandering here is unattractive, no matter how politically expedient. Acknowledged: He didn't rise to his lofty position -- or achieve a remarkable degree of success in his first two years -- by listening strictly to principle or the likes of kneejerk liberals like me.
UPDATE: A reader asked for a copy of the letter sent from Higher Ed. It's on the jump.
LETTER FROM HIGHER ED DIRECTOR JIM PURCELL
Presidents and Chancellors:
It has come to the attention of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education that some institutions may be offering in-state tuition to students without attempting to verify their status as being legally present in the United States.
According to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 and the Omnibus Consolidated Appropriation Act, 1997 (8 U.S.C. § 1623): “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”
If your institution does in fact grant in-state tuition benefits to any student not legally present in the United States, under federal law, the same in-state tuition benefits must be granted to any student who is a citizen of the United States, without regard to the state of residency. Otherwise, you are in violation of Federal law.
The Arkansas Department of Higher Education requests that in the future, all admissions forms for your institution include the question of residency, U.S. citizenship, and require a valid Social Security number or student visa number, in a good faith effort to comply with federal law. Please provide copies of the revised applications to ADHE to have on file.
Henceforth, students who are admitted to a publicly supported college or university that do not have such information on file will not be considered as legally enrolled students for the purpose of determining the biennial funding by ADHE.
I appreciate your assistance in this matter.
Dr. Jim Purcell, Director
Arkansas Dept. of Higher Education