Lawsuit Challenges College Fee
Break for Illegal Immigrants
A group of out-of-state college students filed a class-action lawsuit challenging a law that lets some illegal immigrants who graduate from California high schools pay lower in-state fees at the state’s public colleges and universities.
The 2002 law allows students who attend at least three years of high school in California to qualify for the same in-state fee break given California citizens, regardless of their immigration status.
The lower fee levels can save students thousands of dollars a year. For example, out-of-state students pay nearly $24,000 a year to attend the University of California, about $17,000 more than California residents.
The lawsuit was filed in Yolo County on behalf of 42 plaintiffs, including two children of a former San Diego congressman. Attorneys for the plaintiffs say the policy affects 60,000 out-of-state students who pay higher fees than in-state illegal immigrants.
“The class becomes bigger each year because each year thousands of law-abiding freshmen enter our system,” says Redwood City attorney Michael Brady.
At issue is a federal law the plaintiffs claim specifically bars states from offering benefits to illegal immigrants without also making them available to U.S. citizens.
California is one of nine states with laws allowing undocumented students to qualify for lower in-state tuition rates. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Kansas challenging that state’s law was dismissed, but is being appealed.
But spokespeople for the state’s largest public universities say they believe they are complying with federal and state laws.
About 70 percent of the UC students who benefit from the California law are American citizens in unique circumstances, such as those who attended boarding school in California despite having a legal address in another state, says University of California spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina.
She says 1,339 of the system’s roughly 208,000 students received the fee break during the 2004-2005 academic year.
“When we adopted the policy, it really had nothing to do with illegal immigrants. We were conforming the university’s policies with state law,” she said.
The California State University system does not record how many of their students are using the law to save the $10,170 a year in out-of-state fees, says CSU spokeswoman Clara Potes-Fellow.
“Part of the law is that this is confidential, so we don’t gather names, we don’t gather numbers,” she says.
To qualify for the in-state rate, students must have attended a California high school for at least three years, must graduate from a California high school and must sign an affidavit declaring that they will seek to become legal residents as soon as it is feasible.
Suzanne Kattija-Ari, 23, a UC-Davis veterinary student from Hawaii whose father immigrated from Thailand in the 1970s, says the fee break is unfair to those who follow the law but end up paying more than their illegal counterparts.
She says she has had to work several part-time jobs and take out student loans to pay her high out-of-state fees.
“It’s not so much that they got this benefit and we didn’t, it’s just the unfairness of it,” she continues. “They’re 18 now. They should do the right thing, apply for citizenship.”
The lawsuit was sparked when former Rep. Brian P. Bilbray, R-San Diego, discovered that his children would have to pay more than $2,000 to attend community college after attending private school in Virginia.n
— Associated Press
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