The California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Assembly Bill 540, known as the DREAM act, which allows those who attend a California high school for at least three years to pay in-state tuition. This means a savings of $20,000 in tuition for qualified UC students and $11,000 for CSU students.
“We are very pleased with the California Supreme Court’s decision,” said Charles Robinson, UC’s general counsel and vice president for legal affairs, in a press release.
AB 540 was enacted by the state legislature in 2001. In 2005, Robert Martinez, an Arizona citizen, along with 42 other U.S. citizens, filed a class action suit against the UC Regents for violating the rights of non-resident students under federal law. The case was also brought against other state public schools, including the California State Universities and the California Community Colleges.
Federal law mandates that undocumented immigrants cannot receive special privileges for higher education on the basis of residency that is not also given to citizens.
Under AB 540, any student who attends three years of high school in California and graduates is eligible for resident fees, including residents of other states who go to high school here.
The plaintiff lost in the Yolo County Superior Court and later successfully appealed at the 3rd District Court of Appeals in Sacramento. It was then brought to the California Supreme Court, where on Nov. 15, the last decision was unanimously overturned.
“The university supported AB 540 because we believe that students who attended and graduated from high school in California but are not legal residents should have an opportunity to get a higher education,” Robinson said. “We are gratified that the California Supreme Court has agreed that this state law does not conflict with federal law.”
According to UC, many citizens and legal residents benefit from AB 540. In 2008-2009, roughly 1,600 students, or 80 percent of those who qualified under AB 540, were U.S. citizens and legal residents. Since the program’s inception into the UC system in 2002, over two-thirds of those who take advantage of the resident tuition requirements under this act are documented students.
“Through their hard work and perseverance, these students have earned the opportunity to attend UC,” said Mark Yudof, President of UC, in a statement. “Their accomplishments should not be disregarded or their futures jeopardized.”
Additionally, the law only applies to tuition. Undocumented immigrants will still not be eligible for federal, state or institutional financial aid.
This decision comes at the heels of recently approved tuition hikes. CSU recently approved a 15 percent tuition increase, and UC approved an 8 percent increase. Some against AB 540 argue that taxpayers are subsidizing tuition for undocumented immigrants.
“The state has enough money to give in-state tuition to people who are illegally in the state but they’re crying that they’re so short of money they have to raise rates on people who are legally present,” said U.S. Rep. Brian Bilbray (R-San Diego), one of the plaintiffs of the case, to the Sacramento Bee.
The plaintiffs claimed that over 25,000 undocumented immigrants statewide pay in-state tuition. In 2005, the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimated that giving resident tuition to undocumented immigrants costs the state between $222 to $289 million.
Nine other states, including New York, Texas, Illinois and Washington, have laws similar to AB 540. The law has also been challenged in Nebraska and Kansas. The plaintiffs’ attorney said he is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn this decision.
SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at email@example.com.