South Dakota Legislature senator proposes bill to bar undocumented students from public universities

JACOB KNUTSON

jaknutson15@ole.augie.edu

The South Dakota State Legislature is considering a bill that would prevent undocumented immigrants from accessing South Dakota public universities.

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Senate Bill 103, if passed, would require the South Dakota Board of Regents to verify that each current or prospective student is a U.S. citizen. If the student cannot prove their citizenship, the bill prevents public universities from offering the student scholarship or financial aid.

The bill’s sponsor, Stacey Nelson (R-Fulton) said the proposal will prevent the schools from harboring illegal immigrants and taxpayers footing the bill for their education.

This bill comes at a time when the immigration debate is raging on the federal level. Just a week ago, the government shut down over the issue. While a handful of rational, level-headed members of Congress are attempting to develop a solution to the immigration problem on the federal level, their counterparts on the state level, like Nelson, are contributing little to the discussion.

Nelson proposed the bill in the face of evidence from the Board of Regents that the “fiscal impact of admission of undocumented students is negligible,” according to a report released by the board in July of last year. The report suggests that so few undocumented immigrants attend public university that there is little fiscal reason to prevent them from attending.

Nelson also proposed the bill with knowledge that anyone living in South Dakota pays taxes, be it sells tax, excise taxes or property taxes. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that undocumented immigrants contribute $11.74 billion to state and local coffers each year. This refutes Nelson’s belief that undocumented immigrants are a drain to U.S. citizens.

If these students attending or attempting to attend public university are contributing to the tax system, one can only wonder why they should be prevented from accessing it.

 

If Nelson truly believes that there is a fiscal incentive to deny these students scholarship and financial aid, he must feel obligated to expand this bill to K-12 schooling. If we follow his idea to the end, he must think it noble to send a kindergartner packing if they cannot produce their documents.

At heart, Nelson’s bill is a bigoted attempt to keep young minds from accessing higher education, and it seems he is blind to the benefits that these human beings offer our society.

This bill contributes nothing productive to the immigration debate. One can only wonder what may emerge if the legislature put as much time and energy dedicated to bigoted laws toward programs that would help these people become citizens.

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If Senate Bill 103 passes, it will leave yet another dark mark on the state legislature. But as a consolation prize, if the bill passes, it provides an opportunity to private universities, like Augustana and Mount Marty, to welcome these undocumented students with open arms.

If you would like to comment for or against this bill, you can contact Senator Jim Bolin (R-Canton) at 605-261-9669 or Jim.Bolin@sdlegislature.gov.

If you would like to contact Nelson, the bill’s sponsor, you can reach him at 605-770-7461 or Stace.Nelson@sdlegislature.gov.

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