California court backs in-state tuition for illegal immigrants
Monday's California Supreme Court ruling upholding in-state tuition for illegal immigrants may lead to similar legal challenges elsewhere.
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The issue could get very hot politically, agrees Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “Think of it from the perspective of a California parent whose son or daughter did not get into the University of California," he says. “ 'Not only did an illegal alien take my kid’s spot,' the parent might think, 'but I have to pay higher taxes to support the illegal alien’s tuition!' ”Skip to next paragraph
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Immigration rights groups cheered the decision, saying it would help deserving students gain access to California schools. “This 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," said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in a statement.
Others say opportunity is what America is all about, and the decision will have positive fallout on the nine other states that have similar laws, including Texas and Kansas.
“This is a huge victory in terms of what other states will be willing to do,” says Andrea Ramos, director of the Immigration Law Clinic at Southwestern Law School. “If the court would have found for the plaintiffs, it would have put a damper on such ideas elsewhere.”
She says illegal immigrants going to college is not a drain on the system, but a boon, because the idea doesn’t amount to aid or grant money or constitute affirmative action.
“Our whole American way of life is based on merit,” says Ms. Ramos. “I’ve worked with these kids and when they find they’ve worked through high school with good grades and find they can’t go on to college, it’s devastating.”
There is some debate about whether Monday's ruling will help define further the legal concept known as “federal preemption,” which comes from the supremacy clause of the US Constitution. It holds that, in general, federal law trumps state law.
Some analysts say each part of the preemption law is discrete enough not to have broader implications. Others say each clarification, however small, helps. The California court found that the law does not conflict with a federal prohibition on education benefits for illegal immigrants based on residency, in part because US citizens from other states who attend high school in California may also benefit.
“This is kind of the flip-side of preemption as that raised by Arizona’s tough new immigration law,” says Vivek Malhotra, national state strategist for the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. The Arizona law is being challenged on constitutional grounds by the US Department of Justice in federal court. “The issue in that case is whether or not you can engage your policy in conflict with the federal government. What they’ve said here is that California can address a policy that addresses education for undocumented immigrants without running afoul of federal law.”