In-state tuition for illegal immigrants the right decision by court

January 6, 2011 — by Anshu Siripurapu

At the end of November, most seniors breathe a long sigh of relief when they finally submit their UC application. Saratoga has a long tradition of students attending the competitive UC system, but recently, tuition increases in the UC system have made many private colleges seem like a more inviting option. For undocumented immigrants, however, the UC system is now a much more promising option after they were granted in-state tuition benefits, a welcome step in immigration reform.

On Nov. 15, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that undocumented immigrants may receive the same reduced tuition as other in-state residents. The case was brought to the court after the law guaranteeing in-state tuition was challenged by Kris Kobach, the architect behind the Arizona immigration law SB 1070, who has filed similar cases in several states. Kobach brought the case on behalf of U.S. citizens who did not receive the same in-state tuition break. A lower court ruled in favor of Kobach but the decision was appealed and struck down by the state Supreme Court.

Currently, illegal immigrants are still barred from receiving federal financial aid to pursue higher education. Without lowered in-state tuition, college would simply be unaffordable for many immigrants. In order to allow illegal immigrants a chance to achieve a higher level of education and place them on a path to citizenship, we must allow them the same benefits that we give to other residents.

A common misconception is that the law doles out money to illegal immigrants to attend public universities—it doesn’t. It merely extends the lower tuition to illegal immigrants who meet the requirements as legal residents who have attended a California high school for at least three years and graduated. Students, regardless of their residency, should be encouraged to pursue higher education if they are eligible. California should not punish hard working students for circumstances beyond their control.

Furthermore, it is crucial that we maintain the meritocracy that brought the California system of higher education to its zenith. A student’s immigration status should not bar them from pursuing higher education if they meet the requisite admission standards.

If we make higher learning unavailable to undocumented immigrants we risk losing valuable assets to American society. Illegal immigrants can be extremely successful when admitted to institutes of higher education. Pedro Ramirez, the student body president at Fresno State University, is just one such example. Ramirez immigrated from Mexico when he was just three years old, a plight similar to many undocumented minors.

Despite this, he has excelled in his community and gone on to play a dominant part in his university. If California denies in-state tuition benefits to illegal immigrants, students like Ramirez may be unable to afford college and contribute their skills to society.

Allowing undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition will place them on the pathway to citizenship. Legislation such as the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM) Act have already proposed such a path for illegal immigrants to become citizens.

The crux of the DREAM Act, provides that undocumented minors who serve in the military or attend college for two years would be granted “conditional” immigration status and eventually if they continued to meet eligibility requirements, permanent residency. The act passed through the House but was defeated in the Senate on Dec. 18.

Despite its the Senate’s block, there is still strong support behind the DREAM Act and for good reason. As President Obama said, the act would fix “one of the most egregious flaws of a badly broken immigration system … that forces children who have grown up in America, who speak English, who have excelled in our communities … to put their lives and talent on hold.” The California court’s decision to grant undocumented immigrants in-state tuition is a great step in the right direction.

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