WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court Monday left in place a California law that allows undocumented immigrants who attended state high schools to pay in-state fees instead of higher nonresident tuition at public colleges.
The high court refused to hear 42 out-of-state students’ appeal of a California Supreme Court ruling that upheld the use of the law to give undocumented immigrants the lower tuition costs.
The 2001 law, enacted as AB 540, exempts students who have attended at least three years of high school in California from paying out-of-state tuition at the University of California, state universities and community colleges.
The benefit applies both to undocumented immigrants and to other types of students, such as U.S. citizens who attended high school in California and then moved to another state.
The 42 students claimed the measure violated a 1996 federal law that bars states from offering undocumented immigrants college tuition breaks on the basis of residence unless all U.S. citizens in the country receive the same benefit.
But the California Supreme Court ruled in November that the statute didn’t violate the federal law because it was based on high school attendance, not residence.
In Monday’s action, the U.S. high court declined without comment to hear the plaintiffs’ appeal of that ruling.
Ethan Schulman, a lawyer for the University of California, said, “It’s very gratifying that the California Supreme Court decision upholding AB 540 is now the final ruling.
“This is an important law that allows deserving students to get an affordable education,” Schulman said.
But Michael Brady, a lawyer for the plaintiffs called it “fundamentally unfair” that undocumented immigrants get the tuition break when out-of-state students, some of whom are low-income or minority, do not.
The plaintiffs unsuccessfully argued in the appeal that California had tried to “defy Congress’s clear statutory prohibition.”
In the appeal, the nonresident students’ lawyers estimated that 25,000 resident undocumented immigrants, almost all in the community college or state university systems, received the tuition breaks in 2008-09 at a cost to the state of $208 million.
Nonresident tuition at the public colleges is several times the cost of resident fees.
In the state university system last fall, out-of-state tuition was $372 per semester unit, in addition to a $2,115-per-semester education fee charged to all students.
At UC Berkeley, out-of-state undergraduates paid $11,011 in tuition for the fall semester, on top of about $6,000 in education fees paid by both residents and nonresidents.
Plaintiffs’ lawyers from the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, D.C., said in their appeal that about 15,000 undocumented immigrants at community colleges and 10,000 at state universities received the tuition benefit that year.
Schulman said that the University of California’s statistics showed that 426 out of 2,019 students who received the tuition break in 2008-09 were undocumented immigrants. The others were American citizens or legal residents.
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