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Legal Battle in California Over In-State Tuition for Undocumented Students

California illegal immigrants could face a tuition hike at public universities if the state Supreme Court rules in favor of 42 out-of-state students who claim it is discriminatory and illegal to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition. The court began hearing the case Tuesday and is expected to rule within 90 days.

Granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants is in violation of a section of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which Democrats hope to repeal as part of the DREAM Act. The act would give states authority to determine whether to allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition, which many have bucked federal law to do anyway. Along with California, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington allow illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition if they attended high school in the state for at least three years.

The San Francisco Chronicle has a good rundown of the case:

A lawyer for 42 non-Californians who pay the higher fees at UC, state university and community college campuses argued that the statute is discriminatory and violates federal immigration law.

“One of the privileges of U.S. citizenship is not being treated worse than an illegal alien,” attorney Kris Kobach told the court at a hearing in Fresno.

Kobach, it should be noted, is also the mastermind of Arizona’s SB 1070 immigration law requiring police to check immigration status of those they “reasonably suspect” to be in the country illegally.

Others argue California law primarily impacts legal residents and is about reducing tuition for all students who went to high school in the state:

The state law “has enabled thousands of talented high school students … to get an affordable education,” said Ethan Schulman, lawyer for the UC regents.

California immigrant rights activists have pushed to take aid even further with the California Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students who qualify for in-state tuition to apply for financial aid. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has repeatedly vetoed the bill.

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