"It does not make sense, does not make economic sense, to spend taxpayer money to train a workforce that is not able to legally work here in the United States or in Missouri," said Rep. Jerry Nolte, R-Gladstone.
Nolte said the bill would be in compliance with a federal law that restricts universities from allowing illegal immigrants to enroll. Schools that knowingly enroll illegal immigrants would not receive state funding.
Speaking against the bill, Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, said illegal immigrants are valuable to higher education.
"Immigrants bring a lot to our institutions," he said. "They bring an immigrant work ethic. It's a work ethic that we saw in the 1800s and 1900s that helped build this country."
Roorda introduced an amendment to weed out people he said pose a greater threat to universities.
"I can think of some far less desirable folks to have in our public institutions," he said. "Greatest among them, I think, are sex offenders."
The amendment was dismissed without a vote.
Some lawmakers expressed concern over the cost to universities, but Nolte said there should not be concern over the cost of following the law.
"I think compliance with a federal law is not something that is a special expense," he said. "If we were interested in strictly saving money, we could relieve the universities of complying with any law."
Officials at the University of Missouri System said the system will assume minimal administrative costs to fulfill the bill's requirements, according to a fiscal analysis prepared by the Legislative Research Committee.
UM System spokesman Scott Charton said the system supports the bill and the program requires no extra funding from students or the state.
"The university collaborated with the bill in its formation," he said. "If we enroll someone, we will verify that they are here legally. This is information that we are already able to track."