Calif. Supreme Court: Illegal Immigrants Can Pay In-State Tuition

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on November 16, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

On November 15, the California Supreme Court ruled it was legal for the state to grant California in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants while denying in-state tuition to U.S. citizens who live out of state. The court upheld the state law that allowed any student who had completed at least three years of high school and who had graduated or gained their GED in California to be eligible for the lower rate of in-state tuition in the California public university system.

Even though opponents of the law have said they will appeal the ruling, the state's supreme court decision may have far-reaching effects on other states with comparable laws. Similar lawsuits are still pending in Nebraska and Texas, according to The New York Times.

The decision of the California State Supreme Court is not binding on any other state supreme court who may take up the issue, but the arguments used by the justices in forming the basis for their decision can be influential. According to the report by CNN, the court seemed to shift the focus from a question of whether or not an eligible student was a "resident" to whether they had completed the high school requirements that would allow them to qualify for the benefit of California in-state tuition. In that way, the focus of the law does not go against the federal requirement that illegal immigrants not receive a benefit not given to all other U.S. citizens. Any citizen who completes the three-year high school requirement is eligible.

In Massachusetts, the fight over whether to restrict various kinds of benefits to illegal immigrants was "intense and nasty," according to the Less is More Blog of the Boston Examiner. In that state, an attempt to cut off benefits to illegal aliens passed the state senate, but failed in the house, all on tight margins. Governor Deval Patrick has said he is in favor of granting in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants.

Of course, like the Arizona immigration law, this is not the end of the road for the California law. The representative for parties in opposition to the California law was Kris Kobach, who, according to The Times, helped draft Arizona's SB 1070. Kobach told The Times, "I think the pendulum is definitely swinging in favor of enforcement of the law and discouraging illegal immigration," he said. "I am confident this is not the last word on the subject."

Kevin R. Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California, Davis, agreed the question will garner further legal actions. "This issue is not going to go away," Professor Johnson told The Times. "It's going to require some Congressional action."

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