Bravo, News: Michigan tuition equality makes sense

AP Photo

I was going to blog about something else today. But my plans changed when I saw The Detroit News‘ March 14 editorial in favor of tuition equality for undocumented Michigan high-school graduates.

I congratulate The News for taking that stand — and reassure some of the people who left online comments critical of the editorial.

For some of the objectors, their basic argument came down to fairness: Because “the illegals” don’t pay taxes, they should not get the same tuition discount as citizens, who help support those schools. To those making that case, I have some good news. Undocumented residents actually do pay taxes. They pay quite a lot.

Here are some facts to chew on:

– In a report issued in February, the Center for Tax Justice found that, “nationwide, undocumented families paid about $11 billion in state and local taxes in 2010,” mostly in the form of sales and excise taxes.
– In 2010, undocumented workers paid about $15 billion in Social Security taxes, mainly with no intention of collecting benefits later on. That’s because many of those people work using expired Social Security numbers issued with long-gone temporary or student visas. Others pay the taxes using forged numbers, meaning the payments go into the Social Security trust fund without anyone getting credit for them.
– A high percentage of undocumented workers actually pay federal income taxes and file federal tax returns. They can do that using the Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers the Internal Revenue Service provides to foreigners in the United   States. A kerfuffle was created when it was discovered that some undocumented workers receive refundable child-care tax credits. Congress, in its own juvenile way, is working on that.

However, probably the best argument for tuition equality is the pragmatic one made by The News. Michigan simply has nothing to gain and a lot to lose by discouraging good students from going to college — regardless of who their parents are. Good public policy ought to trump anyone’s desire to punish kids for being part of the “wrong” kinds of families.

Good call, Detroit News.

James Melton
James Melton is a Detroit journalist. At WWJ News Radio 950 AM, he was an editor and writer for variety of e-publications. He was assistant managing editor for Crain’s Detroit Business. He also is a published author, public relations consultant, and a long-time Detroit resident. In his spare time, Melton “tweets” about good things happening in Michigan.