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Undocumented college students express concern about tuition bill in the Oklahoma House of Representatives

by Silas Allen Published: March 20, 2013

A group of undocumented college students is expressing concern over a bill they say could affect their ability to continue their education.

But the measure's future is in doubt, with the bill's House sponsor saying she would be willing to amend or abandon it.

Senate Bill 423 would require students to be U.S. citizens to qualify for in-state tuition at Oklahoma public colleges and universities. It's unclear how the bill would affect undocumented students who are enrolled now.

The bill passed out of the Oklahoma Senate last week by a 43-0 vote and then headed to the House. It has been referred to the House Appropriations and Budget Committee.

Eleazar Velazquez, 23, is pursuing a degree in architecture at the University of Oklahoma. He isn't enrolled at OU this semester. He hopes to re-enroll as a senior in the fall, but he's concerned the bill could derail those plans.

“That's the only thing that frightens me,” he said.

Velazquez was among members of Dream Act Norman and Dream Act Tulsa who visited legislators at the Capitol recently to express their concerns.

Velazquez, a Millwood High School graduate, came to the United States from Mexico when he was 4. After moving from place to place for several years, his family settled in Oklahoma City in 1996.

As an undocumented student, he isn't eligible for federal financial aid programs such as Pell Grants or federal student loans. He recently applied for deferred action, which allows him to get a job to pay for college.

A U.S. Department of Homeland Security policy known as Deferred Action allows certain undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as young children to stay in the country temporarily. The policy allows those immigrants to apply for two-year work permits that would let them stay in the country.

Velazquez said he's concerned that the bill would keep him from being able to finish his degree. The bill would require him to pay considerably more for tuition, he said, and federal financial aid restrictions leave him with fewer resources to do so.

OU's undergraduate tuition and fees for this academic year come to an estimated $8,700 for state residents and $20,300 for nonresidents.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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