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Invest in immigrants' children, too

Imagine that you have a daughter who just graduated from a Utah public high school and plans to enter one of our great colleges or universities. Now imagine her classmate who is a daughter of an undocumented immigrant to our state. Both just spent three or more years in Utah's public school system. Both shared a gym class, used lockers in the same hallway, participated in the school play, and worked side-by-side with each other on science projects and on the school debate team. Both have prepared themselves academically for higher learning.

Thanks to a farsighted bill sponsored by Rep. David Ure in the 2002 general legislative session, both will pay resident tuition at Utah's colleges and universities. As a consequence, high-achieving Utah children — regardless of their parents' station in life — will have a better chance at learning important skills that will help them be productive members of our community.

Unfortunately, there are some who want to prevent a small and vulnerable group of Utah children from benefiting from higher learning. They seek to require children of undocumented parents to pay nonresident tuition rates, which are more than 3 1/2 times that paid by Utah residents. This isn't right.

That's why the board of governors of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce has passed a resolution in support of the payment of resident tuition by children of undocumented parents. We have taken this position for two major reasons:

First, we have a moral and humanitarian obligation to help all of Utah's children succeed. Children of undocumented parents are Utah children. They are products of our culture, friends to our children, and contributors to our collective community success. They have earned a high school diploma by overcoming significant challenges. And access to education is key to their continued success. We can't take this away from them.

In the 2003-04 school year, 117 children of undocumented parents benefited from paying in-state tuition rates. Testimonials from some that we have spoken to confirm that the light of education burns brightly within them. They are experiencing an education of the mind and the spirit — learning lifelong skills that will ensure their success and, in doing so, building a strong sense of personal worth.

Not only would it be wrong to dim the light of education that shines in each of them, it wouldn't be fair, either. Undocumented residents pay sales taxes when they purchase taxable goods and services, property taxes through their rent or home ownership, and, many times, income taxes through their payroll withholding. They pay for a public education just like the rest of us.

And let's be frank: Regardless of your personal views on national immigration policy, it's not the children's fault. The immigration system must be reformed, and the reform needs to be done correctly. We are fortunate that Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. is taking a leadership role among Western governors on immigration reform. The issues are very complex, and resolution will take time. But, until we have a more sensible national immigration policy, our responsibility is to respond to circumstances within state control. A pro-education posture will win every time.

The second reason for the Salt Lake Chamber's support of resident tuition gets right down to business. Allowing children of undocumented parents to pay resident tuition is not just a redeeming social decision; it is an economic imperative. By far, our greatest economic asset is our people. Our economic self-interest dictates that we provide abundant opportunities for Utah residents to be well-educated and productive. In doing so, we not only benefit from the contributions of an industrious work force, but we prevent human-service costs down the road.

Moreover, Utah businesses need the talent and perspective of more Hispanics in management and leadership positions. There is no better strategy than to open the doors of higher learning to qualified children of undocumented parents. You can count on it: Many of the more than a hundred beneficiaries of this law who are currently enrolled in Utah's colleges and universities will serve in future leadership roles in Utah businesses and government. To this we say welcome.

By supporting the payment of resident tuition for children of undocumented parents, we honor our moral obligations to Utah children and propel our long-term economic success.

Clark D. Ivory is the chairman of the board of governors and Lane Beattie is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.