Paul Elias, Yahoo News, Nov. 16, 2010
The California Supreme Court weighed in Monday on the politically charged immigration fray when it ruled that illegal immigrants are entitled to the same tuition breaks offered to in-state high school students to attend public colleges and universities.
While the ruling applies only to California, the case was closely watched nationally because nine other states, including New York and Texas, have similar laws.
The lawsuit considered by the court was part of a broader legal assault led by immigration legal scholar Kris Kobach, who has filed numerous cases across the country seeking to restrict the rights of illegal immigrants.
He represented a group of U.S. students who filed the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the California law.
Kobach said he would appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A unanimous state Supreme Court, led by politically conservative Justice Ming Chin, said the California provision was constitutional because U.S. residents also had access to the reduced rates.
The California Legislature passed the controversial measure in 2001 that allowed any student, regardless of immigration status, who attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated to qualify for in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities. In-state tuition saves each state college student about $11,000 a year and each University of California student about $23,000 a year.
A state appellate court ruled in 2008 the law was unconstitutional after a group of out-of-state students who are U.S. citizens filed a lawsuit. The suit alleged the measure violated federal prohibitions barring illegal immigrants from receiving post-secondary benefits not available to U.S. citizens based on state residency.
However, the state Supreme Court noted the California law says nothing about state residency, a distinction that foes of the plan said shouldn’t matter. Kobach said the federal legislation was meant to prohibit exactly what the California Supreme Court allowed for illegal immigrants on Monday.
“It presents a rather incomprehensible reading of the federal statute,” Kobach said.
The state law also requires illegal immigrants who apply for the in-state tuition to swear they will attempt to become U.S. citizens. The applicants are still barred from receiving federal financial aid.
“Through their hard work and perseverance, these students have earned the opportunity to attend UC,” said University of California president Mark G. Yudof. “Their accomplishments should not be disregarded or their futures jeopardized.”
Democratic leaders in Washington, D.C., are mulling whether to try to pass immigration reform measures before they lose control of the House of Representatives in January.
During his re-election campaign, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., promised to try to get a vote on the “DREAM Act,” which would create a path to citizenship for youth living in the country illegally who attend college or join the military.
White House spokesman Luis Miranda said the administration welcomes any opportunity for Congress to take up the proposal. The legislation “is important to both our national security and our economy,” Miranda said.