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Supreme Court rejects illegal immigrant in-state tuition challenge

June 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Should illegal immigrants living in California pay the higher out-of-state tuition rates at University of California and California State systems?

A court battle over tuition fees for undocumented students at California state colleges and universities is over. And it's good news for those students who were threatened with higher tuition. It's a legal fight that's gone on for six years.

Hoping to get the partial tuition refunds, the attorney for 42 former college students is disappointed that Supreme Court justices did not take their case.

Thousands of undocumented students in California are breathing a sigh of relief.

By declining to look at the case, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a state law that allows illegal immigrants who've attended a California high school for three years and graduated to pay the much lower in-state tuition rate at public colleges and universities.

Maria Luna paid in-state tuition at Cal State even though she's not here legally.

"We've been California residents all of our lives, and most likely when we graduate, we're going to continue to be residents of this state. So I think it's fair," said Luna, a CSU graduate.

The class action lawsuit came about in 2005 when numerous students from other states became fed up with having to pay the substantially higher out-of-state tuition rates while attending a California community college or public university.

Their attorney says benefits for illegal immigrants should not be better than those offered to American citizens and points out the special rule for illegals costs taxpayers more than $200 million a year to subsidize tuition.

"Just think of a low-income Hispanic student from Nevada going to the UC system and having to pay $35,000 a year, compared to an illegal immigrant who lives in Modesto who has to pay about $8,000," said Mike Brady, an attorney for out-of-state students.

But the lower courts have said this case is not about immigration status, but residency.

American citizens from other states who spent three years and graduated from high school in California also get to pay in-state tuition.

"The Supreme Court has allowed the states to draw a distinction in tuition between residents and non-residents," said Prof. Brian Landsberg, University of Pacific McGeorge School of Law.

In all, the state says more than 40,000 students last year attended a California college or university under special tuition rule. It's unclear how many were illegal immigrants, but CSU grad Maria Luna says the tuition break ensures college is affordable for more immigrant families.

"It's going to help them because they won't have difficulties of out-of-state tuition," said Luna.

Nebraska also has a court challenge to its in-state tuition rule. It's possible the U.S. Supreme Court will take that case and make a ruling that other states, including California, will have to follow.


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