Rep. Grace Diaz’s Tuition Equity bill was heard in the House Finance Committee meeting Thursday evening, with several student activists giving powerful testimony in support of the legislation. House Bill 7374 would codify existing policy that grants in-state tuition rates at Rhode Island’s public colleges and universities to undocumented students who have graduated from the state’s public high schools.
Rep. Diaz has introduced this legislation for over 11 years, and now, 20 other states have adopted similar policies, although only 16 have codified such in law. Diaz noted that she “was surprised to see many states that also provided tuition assistance to some students”, which her bill nor Rhode Island policy currently provides. She concluded by stating: “Regardless of immigration [policy], I believe every student needs to have access to higher education”
Even though Diaz’s bill is currently a policy that Rhode Island’s public institutions follow, she wishes to codify it as she is “afraid at some point we might have a governor who will get rid of the [existing] policy”
Rhode Island Kids Count also came out in support of the bill, stating that it is time to codify this legislation in law, as we have had a chance to see how it has been implemented.
Rodrigo Pimentel, representing Jobs with Justice, railed against the oft-used reasoning of immigration opponents: “the law is the law”. Here’s what they had to say about it:
“When we look back upon history, we see different groups that were marginalized and scapegoated for our nation’s problems. The oppressors will appeal to the law, often stating that “the law is the law” — they will hold the law as sacrosanct, as many have unfortunately done throughout our past.”
Pimentel said that “during slavery, run-away slaves would break the law by attempting to illegally cross the Mason-Dixon line, and the Quakers and abolitionists also knowingly violated the law by helping them. And it was the white slave owners that made it against the law to help runaway slaves.”
They also alluded to Donald Trump’s demagoguery, stating: “Today, we have a demagogue who comes along and says, “I know what the causes of your problems are”, it’s the immigrants, it’s the muslims, but it wasn’t so long ago when it was the uppity women who were trying to take jobs away from men, or blacks who were trying to take jobs away from whites. That’s what demagoguery is about. It is to dehumanize, disenfranchise, and discriminate, all to obfuscate the real problems facing our society.
Pimentel concluded their testimony by urging the Committee to “[reject] political expediency and [be] on the right side of history. By doing such, the committee will show that human dignity is sacrosanct, not blind appeals to the law.”
Predictably, and embarrassingly, Terry Gorman and William Perry, of RIILE, resorted to appealing to what Pimentel had just spent their entire testimony dismantling: “the law is the law”. Perry stated how the current policy would is “aiding and abiding illegal immigration”, arguing that it is a violation of federal immigration law.
Addiqa Saleem, a student at the Community College of Rhode Island, supported the legislation. Even though she is not undocumented, she testified about her own experience on trying to qualify for in-state tuition as a legal immigrant in the State of Rhode Island.
Sabine Adrian, a Providence Student Union organizer, also came out in support of the legislation, reading written testimony of an undocumented student who could not have been present at the hearing.
Yaruska Ordinola, a senior at the University of Rhode Island testified in support. She eloquently stated that “by supporting this bill, you’re giving students like me the voice to pursue their education, students like me who call Rhode Island their home. We’re asking for a possibility, to pursue an education, and make our futures a reality”
For the full testimony, including other student activists and community members who testified on the legislation, see the video below: