KU’s student leaders condemn Kobach’s statements on in-state tuition for undocumented Kansans

photo by: Associated Press

In this Wednesday, May 17, 2017 photo, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks with a reporter in his office in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is taking heat this week from student leaders at the University of Kansas for remarks he made on Twitter about undocumented college students.

The comments in question were posted to Kobach’s personal Twitter last week. In his post, the 2018 gubernatorial candidate wrote, “It will cost more to attend KU, K-State and WSU next year. We could stem the rising tide of tuition hikes, if Kansas stopped granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens.

“When I’m governor,” he pledged, “subsidies to illegals will stop.”

The remarks prompted a joint statement from KU’s Student Senate and Multicultural Student Government on Sunday strongly condemning Kobach’s position. In the statement, students said Kobach “has used his political power and influence to intimidate and discriminate against marginalized communities,” particularly DACA recipients and other undocumented residents, for nearly two decades now.

“Secretary Kobach is using his position of power to promote xenophobia, nativism, and intolerance which cause fear, anxiety, and concern among undocumented and DACAmented students in the State of Kansas,” the joint statement said. “A core principle of being a Jayhawk, a Kansan, and an American is respecting the humanity of other people. The views of Secretary Kobach will not divide our student body, our state, or our nation.”

The letter was signed by student body president Noah Ries, student body vice president Charles Jetty, Student Senate director of diversity and inclusion Trey Duran and Multicultural Student Government co-presidents Constanza Castro and Jonathan Ruiz-Cervantes.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Kobach further explained his position. When asked for evidence supporting a link between ceasing in-state tuition for undocumented students and stemming tuition hikes, Kobach said the state is currently giving away roughly $4 million in tax subsidies to undocumented students. Kobach said there are between 650 and 700 of these students enrolled in state universities and colleges.

Those numbers contradict figures released by Kansas Board of Regents officials earlier this year. Based on enrollment figures as of February 2018, Regents officials estimated that requiring undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition would amount to nearly $2.3 million a year in extra revenue.

Enrollment figures shared by the Regents at the time revealed there were 670 undocumented students taking advantage of the in-state tuition program. Of those, 495 were attending community colleges, 142 were attending public universities and 33 were attending technical colleges.

“It’s hard to calculate because some of them are at community colleges, some are at universities, and so you have to calculate the difference between in-state and out-of-state,” Kobach said Tuesday. “But it’s roughly $4 million.

“What could you do with that?” Kobach added. “Well, you could take that $4 million and subsidize the tuitions of Kansans and U.S. citizens. And you divide that up by the number of students, and it would offer relief to many Kansans attending these universities.”

But Trey Duran, KU Student Senate’s director of diversity and inclusion, argued against the idea Tuesday, saying that any difference between out-of-state and in-state tuition payments from the state’s undocumented students “isn’t enough to radically help native-born Kansans.”

“I just don’t think that barring undocumented students who have been eligible through the state statute is actually a genuine approach to fixing the problem of tuition among KBOR institutions,” Duran said, “instead of being a way to scapegoat marginalized communities within our student bodies.”

The number of undocumented students at KU, he pointed out, is very small. As of February 2018, KU had fewer than 10 such students, according to Regents enrollment data. Johnson County Community College had the largest number of undocumented students at the time, with 192. Wichita State University had the most among four-year universities, with 43 students.

Duran said KU Student Senate and Multicultural Student Government decided to release the joint statement against Kobach after seeing backlash from KU students on social media. He finds it troubling that Kobach, in his view, is “acting as if he’s acting in the best interests of students in KBOR institutions,” while in reality, “the majority of students don’t agree” with Kobach’s stance.

Kobach released a statement of his own Tuesday afternoon in response to the joint statement by KU’s Student Senate and Multicultural Student Government:

“I don’t think the leadership of the KU Student Senate is representing the voices of Kansas students who are struggling to pay their own tuition,” he said. “They seem more concerned with making partisan, left-wing attacks than they are interested in looking at the unfairness of tuition hikes for Kansans while subsidies are given to illegal aliens.”

For Constanza Castro, co-president of KU’s Multicultural Student Government, the issue is personal. Castro said she received her citizenship just last year after spending much of her life, including her middle school and high school years, in the United States.

She said views like Kobach’s come from a fundamental misunderstanding of the complexities of immigration laws and the citizenship process.

“It’s just a gross oversimplification of where the state dollars go,” Castro said of Kobach’s argument.

Kansas has been granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens since 2004, Kobach said Tuesday, a notion he found “appalling.”

When asked if illegal aliens should be barred from attending state universities and colleges, Kobach said he would prefer that, “in an ideal world.” Some states, he said, already have similar restrictions in place. At this point, Kobach said of undocumented students, “I’d be happy just to stop giving in-state tuition to them.”

Kobach argued that Kansas, in granting in-state tuition to these students, is in violation of a federal statute barring such activity. Several states have been offering such subsidies to undocumented students in “clear violation” of this federal law, he said, “in part because the federal statute doesn’t have any teeth.

“It doesn’t impose consequences,” Kobach said.

Kobach also pointed to a Kansas statute passed in 2004 that he said mandates those attending college legally on student visas must pay out-of-state tuition. He compared that with the status of those who receive in-state tuition while in the country illegally.

“What kind of incentive is that? We’re going to give you a financial incentive because you’re breaking the law,” Kobach said Tuesday. “It’s outrageous and I’m going to push the Legislature to repeal it. I believe we can get it done if you have leadership in the governor’s office.”

Kobach also acknowledged that withdrawing in-state tuition for undocumented students wouldn’t solve the problem of rising tuition by itself. He said universities need to look more closely at administrative expenditures, such as salary increases for high-ranking officials and the number of positions in those ranks, in order to curb tuition hikes.

Constanza said Multicultural Student Government and KU Student Senate would be working closely in the coming months to speak out against Kobach’s proposal, as well as establishing a “cohesive unit to create actual sustainable change” for underrepresented KU students.

She’s concerned about what Kobach’s efforts might mean for undocumented students’ access to higher education in the future.

“Getting rid of this law provides a stepping stone to banning students from entrance to universities,” Castro said of Kobach’s suggestion to overturn the statute granting in-state tuition to undocumented students.

A bill that would have repealed the 2004 Kansas law died in the House earlier this year. Kobach was the sole proponent of the bill to speak during a House committee hearing last February, when it was effectively killed for the 2018 session.


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