BOSTON (AP) - After racking up nearly $45,000 in debt paying out-of-state tuition rates to attend the University of Massachusetts, Filipe Zamborlini said the financial strains forced him to leave school after three semesters and put his goal of a college degree on hold.
But Zamborlini, 23, said Monday he stands to benefit from a directive from Gov. Deval Patrick that would allow the children of some illegal immigrants to attend public state colleges and universities at the in-state tuition rate, which would cut costs by 50 percent or more for some students.
"I definitely feel there is a burden that has been lifted off my back," said Zamborlini, who came to the U.S. at age 12 with his mother. He said he earned his shot at college after attending a Boston high school where he graduated with honors and ran track.
"I'm a Bostonian, you can't take that out of me," he said. "Even though I was born in Brazil, I'm a Bostonian in every single way."
In a letter sent Monday to the Board of Higher Education, Patrick said immigrants who, like Zamborlini, have obtained a work permit through a new federal program instituted by President Barack Obama would be eligible to pay the lower rates. The governor said the directive was consistent with an existing state policy that allows people with work permits and valid Massachusetts residency to qualify for in-state tuition.
Obama in June launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, granting immigrants aged 30 and younger two-year reprieves from deportation if they arrived before age 16, had a clean record and met other requirements. The president left it up to individual states to decide whether immigrants should get benefits such as resident tuition.
"It's a step in the right direction but it's not a substitute for comprehensive immigration reform, we still need that," Patrick told reporters on Monday, adding that his directive would impact a "relatively small number" of students.
"There are other students and other residents who need to be brought out of the shadows and into the mainstream," he added.
Secretary of Education Paul Reveille could not pinpoint how many immigrants would qualify for in-state tuition, but said they would be a subset of the approximately 15,000 people aged 16-31 in Massachusetts who fall within the overall criteria. In addition to meeting the requirements under the federal DACA program, students to qualify would also have to meet all current state rules for admission to the colleges and universities, including academic requirements.
Massachusetts would join nearly a dozen other states, including California, that instituted programs offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Patrick has long advocated such a policy, but was unsuccessful in previous attempts to implement it legislatively. Some lawmakers, including House Republican Leader Bradley Jones, accused Patrick on Monday of trying to usurp the Legislature's powers.
"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," said Jones, R-North Reading, who opposes giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants. He urged an immediate halt to the new policy and a discussion of how to provide affordable education to all Massachusetts residents.
Patrick said his directive did not require legislative approval because the new federal program enabled the state to extend its existing policy.
Eva Millona, executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, applauded the governor's announcement and its potential impact on young immigrants.
"This will be huge," Millona said. "They will be able to pay the in-state tuition rate, which will bring huge revenue to the state and help contribute to building a strong workforce."
Massachusetts Treasurer Steven Grossman said the policy would provide a net gain to taxpayers by increasing the number of students attending state colleges and universities. He also addressed concerns that immigrants would take the spots of qualified legal residents at those schools.
"No place at one of our public colleges and universities will be denied to any other child or student," Grossman said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.