Monday, November 15, 2010


LA Times/LA Now |

Chin November 15, 2010 | 10:16 am - The California Supreme Court decided unanimously Monday that illegal immigrants may continue to be eligible for in-state tuition rates at the state's colleges and universities rather than pay the higher rates charged to those who live out of state.

In a ruling written by Justice Ming W. Chin, one of the panel's more conservative members, the state high court said a California law that guarantees the lower tuition for students who attend California high schools for at least three years and graduate does not conflict with a federal prohibition on giving illegal immigrants educational benefits based on residency.

California is one of several states that permit illegal immigrants to take advantage of lower college tuition for students who attend high school and graduate in state. About 25,000 illegal immigrants are estimated to receive in-state tuition rates in California.

A group fighting illegal immigration challenged the California law on behalf of U.S. citizens who pay the higher tuition as out-of-state students. The group won in lower court, and the state appealed.

The lawsuit contended the California law usurped a federal prohibition on giving educational benefits based on residency to illegal immigrants but not all U.S. citizens.

College students who are in the country illegally are barred from government financial-aid programs. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected eventually to decide whether the lower tuition rates also violate federal law.

[Updated at 10:29: The court observed that the state law also benefits U.S. citizens who reside in other states but attend and graduate from high school in California.

"It cannot be the case that states may never give a benefit to unlawful aliens without giving the same benefit to all American citizens," Chin wrote.]


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MALDEF Press Release |


LOS ANGELES, CA - Today, MALDEF applauded the California Supreme Court's ruling in Martinez v. Regents, upholding the California law known as AB 540. AB 540 provides a waiver of out-of-state tuition fees at California's public colleges and universities for students - regardless of immigration status - who have completed three years at a California high school and have attained a high school diploma, or the equivalent thereof.

In response to the ruling, MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz remarked, "This important and beneficial ruling vindicates the careful process followed in drafting AB 540 to ensure that it complies with federal law. The Court's decision means that California's institutions of higher education will continue to be strengthened by the inclusion of some of our state's brightest and most successful students, who simply lack legal status due to the nation's failure to enact the widely-supported DREAM Act."

In today's ruling, the California Supreme Court concluded that California's tuition waiver met the requirements established by federal law to allow the State to provide a post-secondary education tuition waiver to graduates of California high schools, including undocumented students, who have proven ties to the State. Such ties includes the payment of taxes to the State. In its decision, the Court explained that, even though the federal government has established some restrictions on state power, states retain the power to enable undocumented students to have meaningful access to college education.

In 2005, a national anti-immigrant group filed a lawsuit in California state court challenging the validity of AB 540. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of students with minimal to no ties to California, claiming that AB 540 was in violation of federal law. MALDEF represented students receiving the AB 540 tuition waiver at the trial court level, and continued to represent them as Amicus Curiae in the Supreme Court.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation’s leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the “law firm of the Latino community,” MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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