January 09, 2009 12:19 PM ET | Eddy Ramírez
Should illegal immigrants pay discounted tuition rates at state colleges? The California Supreme Court is expected to take up that question later this year when it hears arguments on the constitutionality of California's law granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. Expect educators and lawmakers across the country to pay close attention to the case. The outcome will likely influence other states' college tuition policies for immigrant students who are not legal U.S. residents. At least nine states offer tuition breaks to illegal immigrants who meet certain conditions, including Illinois, Kansas, and New York.
Last August, U.S. News reported on the growing pressure that states face to ban illegal immigrants from public colleges and universities as well as to repeal in-state tuition benefits for those students, no matter their academic qualifications. Lawyers challenging California's tuition policy in the case Martinez v . Regents of the University of California say the state's public colleges and universities are violating a 1996 federal law that prohibits taxpayer-funded institutions from giving benefits to undocumented immigrants that are not also given to U.S. citizens. Out-of-state U.S. citizens are required to pay considerably higher fees than California students, regardless of citizenship status. UC officials say the state law was crafted to comply with federal law. Most students who have qualified for the discounted tuition are legal U.S. citizens, they say, including students who live in other states but attended a California high school, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Federal lawmakers, who will likely try again this year to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform, could also be influenced by the outcome of the case.