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Jul 19, 2013 09:55 AM EDT

Unauthorized Immigrants And Military Veterans to Pay In-State Tuition at U-M

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Unauthorized immigrants from Michigan schools along with military and honorably discharged veterans will now pay in-state tuition rates at the University of Michigan (U-M).The Board of Regents voted 6-2 to approve the proposal during a public meeting, Thursday at the North Campus Research Complex.

The revised tuition rates, effective January 2014, will allow undocumented Michigan residents to pay $13,142 a year, while non-residents will be asked to disburse $40,392. The students in question will now pay $27,250 less in tuition per year and $109,000 over the course of four years.

Democrats supported the plan, while Republicans voted against it.         

Regent Mark Bernstein, a Democrat, hailed the decision by saying that as a public university, U-M should welcome immigrant students.

"This university has always been a place with profoundly important public mission," Bernstein said. "A new generation comes to us with the same exact hopes and dreams."

"These students want nothing more than what my family wanted and what every other student wants, which is to launch their lives from this university. These are students who have in most instances spent virtually all of their lives in Michigan, Bernstein said.

Before the revised guidelines rolled out, immigrants illegally living in the country were asked to pay out-of-state rates to attend the state's flagship university.

Andrea Fischer Newman, a Republican from Ann Arbor, was willing to offer in-state rates to veterans, but not for unauthorized students.

"This is a matter best left to the federal government," Newman said.

"I'm concerned about whether this is appropriate under federal law and believe this type of national issue should be resolved at the federal level, although I am supportive of the expansion of in-state tuition for veterans who have served our nation," Newman said.

On the other hand, Michigan veterans who were posted abroad for a very long time didn't qualify for in-state rates due to university's residency requirements. However, with the proposed changes, all active military and honorably discharged veterans, regardless of where they live, will be liable to pay in-state tuition rates.

"Over the past 10 years our country has asked a lot of its veterans," said Joshua Simister, a U-M student and leader of the school's Student Veterans of America chapter. "We've been frustrated over the past 10 years that we have not had full access to in-state tuition. U-M's prior guidelines were a little bit ludicrous. Of all the hurdles [returning veterans] face, removing one hurdle ... changes the life of that veteran."

Jose Contreras, a Mexican native, praised the decision. His two sons attended elementary, middle and high school in Ann Arbor. Jose's older son, Javier Contreras, said that he moved with his family to Michigan from Mexico when he was just 4-years-old.

"They consider themselves Wolverines, because they grew up in Michigan. They were like 4- or 5-years-old when they grew up here. They have so many friends. They are not considered Mexicans," Contreras said.

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