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Tuition break

The nation’s struggle with illegal immigrants was one of the subtexts for the presidential campaign this year.

President Barack Obama, who won re-election, touted taking a realistic approach to the problem, an idea that was a factor behind his Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which looked to remove the fate of many young illegals from the equation. What the president offered earlier this year was a two-year reprieve from deportation for qualified immigrants 30 years old and younger.

While not welcomed in all quarters, what the president put forth was a sensible first step in getting the nation to move forward on the issue of illegals and immigration reform.

This week, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick seized the opportunity to provide a step farther up the ladder for those illegal immigrants who obtain a work permit through the federal program. These illegal immigrants, should they choose to go to the state’s public universities and colleges, can do so paying the in-state tuition rate.

“It’s a step in the right direction but it’s not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform ...” Patrick said.

Three years ago, when this the idea of in-state tuition was recommended by the governor’s advisory council on immigrants and refugees, this newspaper took the editorial stance that this wasn’t a good idea because these particular students remained illegal immigrants and that the reward, if you will, for lower tuition should go to those here legally.

Obama’s program changes that status, and some of our thinking.

“At that point, they will be here lawfully,” said Heather Johnson, a spokeswoman for the state’s education office. “If you have a work permit, it confers lawful residency in Massachusetts.”

Not everyone sees it this way, however.

“Instead of engaging elected officials from both political parties in constructive conversation and debate, he has put his interests, both politically and personally, above those of Massachusetts’ residents,” Rep. Bradley Jones, R-North Reading, who serves as the House Republican leader.

What Jones is ignoring here is that these are Massachusetts residents, albeit ones who often live on the edges of society. Many have grown up here and would now find their homeland more foreign than the place they call home.

As for a discussion and debate, the Legislature has had the opportunity since the governor’s council came out with its report to provide leadership on this matter.

Patrick has acted. It’s now up to lawmakers to decide if they want to respond because there is certainly more work here and across the nation on resolving the illegal immigration issue.

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