PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota state senator this week proposed legislation aiming to ban people who are living in the U.S. illegally from enrolling at any of the state’s public higher education institutions.
Republican Sen. Stace Nelson’s bill would also declare such people ineligible for resident tuition, scholarships or other financial aid. He said legislators’ responsibilities are to South Dakotans.
“My job as a state legislator is to protect our public institutions. South Dakota taxpayers pay their monies for South Dakota students to go to school,” Nelson said. “Illegal immigrants are not our responsibility.”
The South Dakota Board of Regents oversees the state’s six public universities. A spokeswoman said in an email that the board hasn’t met to discuss the bill, so it doesn’t have a position to share.
But the board said in a July report that the fiscal impact of admitting “undocumented students is negligible.” Mike Rush, the board’s executive director and CEO, told a legislative panel that month that the board doesn’t know how many public university students are living in the U.S. illegally.
For most applicants, a valid South Dakota high school transcript coupled with “self-identification” as a U.S. citizen in the application is used to comply with residency requirements to qualify for resident tuition rates, he said.
The bill would also require the board to develop a method for each school to verify with the federal government an “alien’s lawful presence” in the U.S.
The proposal doesn’t yet have its first legislative hearing scheduled.
A separate bill also introduced this week would give the Legislature control over tuition increases at public universities. Republican Rep. Lynne DiSanto, the bill’s sponsor, said that the Board of Regents, which currently sets tuition and fees, needs more oversight.