The most interesting aspect of this week's legislative hearing on Senate Bill 742, the so-called "tuition equity" bill, was not that hundreds of people showed up or that passions ran high on both sides. The underlying issue—whether Oregon's public universities and community colleges should charge undocumented immigrants out-of-state tuition, as they do now, or the much lower in-state figure—gets right to the heart of strongly held views on both sides of the immigration debate. 

Somewhat predictably, students and co-sponsor Rep. Michael Dembrow (D-Portland) made the case at the Thursday hearing for treating undocumented Oregonians the same as others who were born here.

But the bill, which enjoys the advantage of also being co-sponsored by two veteran Republican senators, Frank Morse (R-Corvallis) and David Nelson (R-Pendleton) gathered strength yesterday from the words of another influential GOP lawmaker.

Although his district is home to the group Oregonians for Immigration Reform, Sen. Larry George (R-Sherwood) was not impressed with the arguments advanced by that group's president, Jim Ludwig.

Ludwig argued that affording undocumented students in-state tuition undermined the rule of law, the observance of which he argued was a fundamental strength of the United States and a reason many immigrants want to live here.

"People come here because there's no rule of law in their home countries," Ludwig said.

George (photo above) found that argument unpersuasive.

"Let's face it," said George, a hazelnut processor who also runs an advertising and political strategy firm. "If you have money, you can pretty much do what you want in this country."

George, who has been his party's standard-bearer in property rights battles, advised Ludwig that he might be making a mistake by going after a sympathetic target: immigrant students who had no control over their parents' decisions to move to Oregon. If the students are already here, George said, Oregon would benefit most from seeing them educated as efficiently as possible.

"Of all the places to break your pick, Jim," George said. "This is the wrong one."

The tuition equity bill, which has been defeated in previous sessions, remains in the Senate Education and Workforce Development Committee pending further discussion.