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.]