Supreme Court: California Can Offer In-State College Tuition to Illegal Immigrants

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Don Hammond / Design Pics / Corbis

In a win for immigrants rights groups, on Monday the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a California law that grants in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

The court rejected without comment an appeal brought by out-of-state students who said it is unfair that they — as U.S. citizens — have to pay as much as $20,000 more than illegal immigrants to study at the state’s colleges and universities.

Lawyers for a conservative immigration-law group that backed the appeal claimed that offering in-state tuition to illegal immigrants the state was giving them “preferential treatment.” That practice is banned by a federal provision in a 1986 law that bars states from giving “a post secondary benefit” to an “alien who is not lawfully present in the United States on the basis of residence within a state,” according to The Los Angeles Times.

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The 2001 California law in question awards in-state tuition to qualified students who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated. The appeal was filed after the California State Supreme Court ruled last year that the law did not conflict with the federal law as the provision awarded in-state tuition to students, including illegal immigrants, based on where they graduated from high school, not where they lived.

While most of the 41,000 students who utilized the law in 2010 to gain in-state tuition attended community colleges, education officials estimate that in 2009, about 2,019 students used the law to pay a lower tuition at one of the University of California’s 10 campuses. Six hundred of those students were believed to have been illegal immigrants.

In rejecting the appeal, the court upheld similar laws in 11 other states, including Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. Twelve other states have laws in place that explicitly refuse to grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.

The case is reminiscent of the DREAM Act, a bill that reintroduced in May of this year that aims to expedite the citizenship process for certain illegal immigrants who graduate from U.S. high schools or serve in the military. However in a provision added to the 2010 version of the bill, Congress stipulated that the act not force states to provide in-state tuition for illegal students. The U.S. House of Representatives passed that version of the bill in late 2010, but the measure did not get enough votes to pass in the Senate.

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