Saturday, September 24, 2011
I thought it was unfortunate that Rick Perry got beaten up for his defense of allowing in-state tuition rates for children of Texas residents who are in the US illegally under federal law. I thought his articulation of a defense was weak but his position makes perfect sense to me.
The question facing the Texas legislature was whether to charge persons who live in Texas but are illegal under federal law an in state tuition of about $10,000 per year as opposed to the out of state tuition of about $35,000 per year. The discount is basicly an incentive for parents to send their kids to college and a credit for the state taxes they have paid partly to fund state colleges and universities.
For Texas, the question was whether on the margin it made economic sense, for Texas, to afford the opportunity to resident but illegal Texans to get a college education and thus be available to work at a higher level in the booming economy of the Lone Star state, or not, in which case these residents would end up working at a lower level. I don't see why this isn't a straightforward decision about how the State of Texas invests its funds in human capittal, which it happens to have a lot of. Large tracts of oil producing state lands produce royalties that have been dedicated to fund education. Lucky Texas.
The position that the state of Texas may not or should not charge only in-state tuition to illegal alien Texas residents because it tends to undercut the federal law on immigration strikes me putting far too little value on an individual state's responsibility to promote economic growth within its borders rather than act as a deputy enforcing federal laws.
Some of the comments made by other Republican candidates at the debate were embarassingly stupid. If you subsidize Mexicans, you will get more Mexicans! seemed to be the sentiment. But in fact, economic immigration into the US is a good thing. It is a symptom of and promotes economic growth. Illegal immigration is much less of a problem now that our economy is swooning.
Texas wants more college educated resident workers and it seems not to care too much whether they are in compliance with federal law or not. I don't really blame them. US immigration laws are a complete mess and unlikely to improve soon. Congress will clean up our immigration law mess sometime after Godot shows up and Jesus returns. In the meantime Texas A&M can turn out thousands more petroleum engineers and UT more doctors and lawyers.
One sentiment seemed to be that it was unfair to Iowans or others that they could not get in-state tuition in Texas while Mexicans could. But the thing is, the people getting in-state tuition in Texas are Texans, at least in the sense that they live, work, pay taxes and especially if their children go to college there, are going to continue to do so. If some Iowan wants to move to Texas, they can do so, and after they live there two years, or whatever the residency requirement is, get in state tuition rates as well.
Republicans making a fuss about the federal immigration status of Texas residents sound a lot to me like there are some federal intrusions on ordinary people's lives they like, and some they don't. But if Texans think it makes sense for them to give the tuition break to Texans the Feds don't like, I don't see why that isn't their decision to make. Its their money and their university system. The decision in the Texas legislature was virtually unanimous. If the University of California system decided to give in-state tuition to non-US resident Pacific Islanders, because they make such great defensive linemen, I might not be for that personally, but I would think it was California's decision to make.
I understand that the federal government has the constitutional power to regulate immigration and that it could if it wanted round up a lot of illegal resident aliens and ship them south. It has not done so and trying to do so would be an economic folly as well as humanitarian disaster. Like nearly everything else the federal government does, our immigration system is shot through with irrationality, preferences and economic stupidity. I don't think Texas is under any obligation to somehow take into account the confused spirit of US immigration law in deciding who does and does not get in-state tuition in Texas. The Texas university system is blessed with bursting coffers due to its unique funding structure based on oil royalties. It can afford to charge in-state tuition to a broader class of people than most state systems. The people of Texas acting through their legislature and governor in a decision that was not very controversial down there decided to allow illegal residents in-state tuition. They seem to think all these children who have already gone through Texas high schools are a good investment. They are probably right but in any event it's their money. I don't really see how it is the business of people in Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts or Utah how Texas decides to run their state university system.
You could call this a states rights or federalism issue and in a sense it is. Texas thinks it has a policy that it thinks will promote economic growth and they don't want inflexible, confused and impossibly snarled federal law to get in the way. Arizona has law enforcement problems it wants to take care of, and it doesn't want the Feds to stop them from dealing with it. Texas has a bunch of smart Mexican kids who want to go to college, and Arizona has become a conduit of drugs and human traffic from Mexico, perhaps for reasons of geography as much as anything else. Both states should be able to take advantage of their opportunities or deal with their problems without the federal government getting in the way.
On a related topic -- whenever a candidate, and I think this includes Romney, says we need a "fence" with Mexico, this just reveals that they are willing to pander to the idiots more than to explain realities. Even if your goal was to establish a security perimeter with a Mexico that had been taken over by bat-winged aliens from another planet, a fence would not be the way to do it. You would need troops, aircraft, sensors and so on, but not a fence. A fence is stone age technology. There are stretches where fences help, as in parts of San Diego county. But the idea of a Pacific to Gulf of Mexico fence is lunacy. Perry tried to explain this but the phrase "1200 miles" just doesn't have the same sound bite resonance as "Fence!" I guess. It really was unfortunate that he was unable to protect his head from the pummeling he got, given that he has doubtless forgotten more about border security than everyone else on the GOP debate stage ever knew.