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A particularly cruel fate awaits the so-called DREAMers, undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children. They grow up knowing no other country than the United States, and may even think they are American citizens, but one day they learn they are not — and that they are vulnerable to deportation. They learn that opportunities and rights available to their schoolmates — ones they themselves had counted on enjoying — are off limits to them.

They must live forever in the shadows.

And that’s exactly where a lot of Americans — including the dominant right wing of the Republican Party — want to keep them.

Witness the repugnant move by Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature calculated to force certain DREAMers to drop out of college. These academically qualified, fee-paying students are allowed to attend state colleges without fear of deportation thanks to President Obama’s 2012 executive order, which made their presence in the U.S. lawful. They had been able to attend public colleges in Missouri at affordable in-state rates — until legislators tucked some extortionary language affecting tuition rates for these students into the preamble of the state’s higher education appropriations bill. Any institution that didn’t charge DREAMers foreign student tuition rates risked having funds in the appropriations bill yanked.

Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, signed the bill but maintains that the language isn’t legally binding because it didn’t go through the legislative process and is not in the bill’s text. Unfortunately, Missouri universities are complying. Letters are being issued to returning students, telling them of the change. They face a doubling or tripling of their tuition costs (depending on where they attend) as they enroll in the state’s universities and college’s this fall.

The University of Missouri system believes that 20 to 30 students currently enrolled across four campuses will be affected, but they expect the number to increase with incoming freshmen. Immigration attorneys think the number is far higher, saying that 40 such students are already enrolling at the university system’s Kansas City campus alone. And there are potentially far higher numbers of such students at community colleges and other schools.

The governor, the ACLU, immigration attorneys, high-school educators, and the state’s colleges and universities are all seeking ways to mitigate the damage.

A Facebook page and a GoFundMe account have been set up to raise the extra tuition fees these students will owe. Some students are being advised that they may need to transfer to state schools in Kansas because paying out-of-state rates there may still be cheaper paying foreign-student tuition rates in Missouri.

In fact, Kansas — renowned as ground zero of right-wing insanity — is one of about 20 states that charges in-state tuition for such students residing there. The Kansas Board of Regents has been among many strong voices protecting those students from similarly misguided attacks that pop up annually in Kansas.

There is little doubt that this sneak attack will be repeated by copycats in other states. After all, the Republican Party is locked in a death grip with anti-immigrant demagogues.

That’s a pity, because Republicans were once among these students’ greatest advocates. Sen. John McCain of Arizona was an early and prominent backer of the federal Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. This bill, first introduced in 2001 and reintroduced numerous times since, would set up a multiphase process whereby people who came to this country illegally as kids — in other words, through no choice of their own — could apply for conditional residency and, after satisfying further qualifications, permanent residency.

Unfortunately, the students who would benefit have been political pawns for going on two decades. After Obama became president, erstwhile Republican supporters found reasons to withdraw their assent.

Disgusted with Congress’s stalling, Obama acted in 2012. He issued an executive order for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. About 665,000 immigrants (4,885 in Missouri ) have qualified so far for the temporary, renewable reprieve from the fear of deportation, but not all of them are seeking a higher education. Many are working. The immigrants have filled out paperwork, gone through checks to certify their character, met education requirements, been fingerprinted and photographed and paid fees.

That rankles the anti-immigrant firebrands of the GOP. So they lash out at a blameless, vulnerable class of immigrants.

But these young DREAMers, by virtue of what they have already overcome, are twice the men and women that the legislators who attack them can ever dream of becoming. And whatever the other obstacles thrown in their path, they will overcome.

(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at msanchez@kcstar.com.)

Photo: Todd Dwyer via Flickr

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