DECEMBER 17, 2009
The first U.S. state to offer illegal immigrants discounted tuition at public colleges and universities is finally being challenged in court for offering the costly perk, which is also available to undocumented students in about a dozen other states.
A Texas group dedicated to fighting illegal immigration has filed a lawsuit to eliminate a state law that allows illegal aliens to attend public institutions of higher education at discounted in-state rates, claiming it violates federal law. In 2001 the Lone Star State became the nation’s first to pass the measure allowing illegal immigrants to, not only pay the cheaper rates offered to legal state residents, but also qualify for financial aid.
Nine other states (California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin) followed Texas’s lead by passing similar laws while a handful offer the tuition break unofficially. A few states, including Arizona, have actually enacted measures forbidding illegal aliens from getting the reduced tuition at public colleges.
In California a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of discounted college tuition for illegal immigrants has made its way to the state Supreme Court, which is expected to hear oral arguments around the middle of next year. The court could establish a precedent with nationwide impact when it rules on the case (Martinez v. Regents of University of California), which was originally 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.
The suit was initially dismissed and subsequently allowed to move forward by a state appellate court, which agreed with the students who argued that federal law requires that states which provide discounted rates to illegal aliens must also offer the same benefit to out-of-state students.
In its 84-page opinion, issued last fall, the state’s Third District Court of Appeals ruled that federal law prohibits California from granting in-state tuition to persons who lack lawful immigration status unless it grants the same rate to all U.S. citizens, regardless of California residence. The justices 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.
The Texas lawsuit, which names the University of Houston, Houston Community College and Lone Star College systems makes similar claims. It asserts that at least 8,000 illegal immigrants attend state colleges and universities at discounted rates or receive public financial aid in violation of federal law. The suit also requests an injunction immediately banning the perk.
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