by Carla Rivera | LA Times LA NOW Blog
September 24, 2009 | 5:26 pm
A coalition of 80 civil rights, student and community organizations representing Asian and Pacific Islander Americans today filed a legal brief with the California Supreme Court supporting a state law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state fees at public colleges and universities.
Thousands of immigrant youths, many from low-income families, would find it impossible to afford college if the law is invalidated, said Yungsuhn Park, an attorney with the Asian Pacific American Legal Center of Southern California, which co-wrote the brief.
The state’s highest court is considering the case, Martinez vs. Regents of the University of California, which challenges the 2001 state law, AB 540, allowing documented and undocumented students to pay in-state rather than out-of-state tuition if they attend at least three years of high school in California, graduate from a state high school and promise to apply for permanent residency.
The difference in costs is considerable: In the current school year, for example, typical fees for an out-of-state undergraduate to attend a University of California campus total nearly $30,000, compared with about $8,000 for a resident.
"There are students currently enrolled in the UC or Cal State system that benefit and there are potentially thousands more who expect to be accepted to school and attend with the benefit of paying state tuition," said Park, who spoke after a news conference to announce the filing.
About 50% of documented and undocumented students receiving a tuition break under AB 540 are Asian and Pacific Islanders, many of them Korean, Park said.
"One of the unique aspects of this community is that a lot of these students were brought here as young children and didn’t have a choice in whether they would enter the country and remain here," Park said. "But they’ve been educated by California public schools."
In 2005, a group of out-of-state students filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of AB 540, alleging that it conflicts with a federal immigration law that prohibits granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants unless all U.S. citizens who wish to attend the state’s schools are granted the same benefit.
California’s law directly contradicts federal law, which seeks to deter people from coming to the U.S. and staying here illegally, said Michael Brady, who represents 42 plaintiffs from 19 states.
In addition, Brady said, the program costs California about $250 million a year "at a time when we can ill afford this subsidy."
But the legal brief filed by the Asian groups argues that AB 540 helps California’s economy by increasing the educated workforce and promotes the social and civic values of education, diversity and democracy.
Even if undocumented students are ineligible to work now, many are petitioning to change their status and may become legal permanent residents during college, the groups say.
"If the benefits from AB 540 were taken away, I wouldn’t be able to go to school," said David, 20, an undocumented student attending UCLA, who spoke after the news conference. He asked that his last name not be used because of his status.