Illegal immigrants get in-state tuition rate in California

Minority student protest display at UC Berkeley.

In-state tuition for illegal immigrants has proven to be a controversial topic at California state universities. (Photo Credit: CC BY/James Buck/Flickr)

The Los Angeles Times reports that the California Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that illegal immigrants who graduate from state high schools will be eligible to receive in-state tuition rates at California universities. Immigrant activists call the decision a victory. Yet legal residents who have lost their jobs or benefits during California’s budget crisis are singing a different tune.

First in-state tuition defense on record

The California court’s defense of in-state tuition eligibility for undocumented immigrants is the first such challenge to the law in the nation. In addition to California, nine other states currently allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition if they have attended at least three years of high school in the state. Typically, students who do not satisfy the state residency requirement must pay much more to attend a state college until they officially become residents of the state in which the college is located.

Opposition cannot stomach the cost

Opponents of the in-state tuition ruling feel that extending the benefit to undocumented immigrants is unfair to students who are in the country legally. In the University of California system, the in-state tuition benefit saves illegal immigrants an estimated $23,000 or more per academic year. The Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, D.C., estimates that more than 25,000 undocumented students attend California state colleges and pay in-state tuition. The estimated cost to the state exceeds $200 million.

Debate regarding in-state tuition ruling and federal law

Federal law bars undocumented immigrants from receiving higher education benefits based upon residency. Ralph Kasarda, an attorney with the Pacific Legal Foundation, points out that the in-state tuition ruling appears to run afoul of federal law. Thus, the case will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“California is not in sync with the federal mandate against giving Brownie points for being an illegal immigrant,” Kasarda told the Los Angeles Times.

But California state officials insist that there is no conflict. They claim that under the state’s nonresident tuition exemption, public colleges may extend in-state tuition to those who attended California high schools for three years or more. Whether the students are illegal immigrants or not isn’t taken into account by California.


Los Angeles Times

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