States cannot be prevented from giving illegal immigrants public benefits that aren’t extended to all American citizens, according to a California Supreme Court ruling that’s likely to have nationwide impact.
The case involves discounted tuition at public colleges and universities in the Golden State. For eight years illegal immigrants have benefited from the costly perk and it’s estimated that around 25,000 undocumented students currently receive the discount, which drastically slashes tuition and should be reserved for legal residents who graduate from state high schools.
In 2005 a group of out-of-state students sued California’s public university and community college system for illegally charging them higher tuition and fees than undocumented immigrants. In 2008 the state’s Third District Court of Appeals sided with the students, ruling 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 where they live.
In its ruling the Sacramento-based appellate court cites a 1996 immigration reform law that says a person who is in the country illegally is not eligible for any state or local public assistance, including any postsecondary education benefit. California is one of ten states—including Texas, Utah, Oklahoma and Maryland—that offer illegal immigrants discounted tuition at public colleges.
To preserve the costly benefit for illegal immigrants, California officials appealed despite widespread student protests over huge tuition hikes to offset deep funding cuts. Ruling unanimously in favor of illegal aliens this week, the state’s Supreme Court said California doesn’t violate federal immigration laws that prohibit states from giving illegal immigrants a public benefit not provided to U.S. citizens because the perk is available to both groups. Legal residents and U.S. citizens who graduate from a California high school can also get discounted college tuition, the ruling points out.
Besides, the justices write in their 25-page ruling:“It cannot be the case that states may never give a benefit to unlawful aliens without giving the same benefit to all American citizens.”