FEBRUARY 05, 2009
A Democrat lawmaker has introduced legislation that could make Colorado the next state to offer illegal immigrants discounted tuition at public colleges and universities.
State Senator Chris Romer, who represents Denver, sponsored the bill because he believes Colorado’s economic success depends on getting illegal immigrants into college. He also says children shouldn’t be punished for the decisions of the adults who brought them into the country illegally.
His measure (SB 170) aims to grant illegal immigrants who graduated from a Colorado high school the same discounted tuition at all public colleges and universities given to legal residents. Currently undocumented college students pay out-of-state tuition rates of 97% to 559% higher than the resident price.
Ten states—including California, Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Maryland—already offer illegal immigrants the taxpayer-financed perk which has been legally challenged as a constitutional violation since it’s not offered to all U.S. students.
One of the lawsuits challenging the measure’s constitutionality will be heard by the California Supreme Court sometime this year. The case (Martinez v. Regents of University of California) was filed in 2005 by a group of out-of-state students and parents who correctly claimed that California’s public university and community college system charged them higher tuition and fees than undocumented immigrants.
A lower court dismissed the suit but a state appellate court later ruled that the lawsuit can move forward. The out-of-state students argue that federal law requires states that provide illegal aliens discounted rates to offer the same benefit to out-of-state students.
California’s Third District Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that federal law prohibits the state from granting the discounted tuition to persons who lack lawful immigration status unless it grants the same rate to all U.S. citizens, regardless of California residence. The judges further pointed out that a 1996 immigration reform law states that a person who is in the country illegally is not eligible for any state or local public benefit, including any postsecondary education benefit.
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