The California Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] unanimously Monday that illegal immigrants are eligible to receive in-state tuition benefits at California's public colleges and universities. The plaintiffs in the class action suit, brought by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) [advocacy website], had alleged [complaint, PDF] that an exemption in California Education Code section 68130.5(a) [text] violates § 1623 of the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 USC § 1623(a)], which prohibits states from allowing illegal immigrants to receive postsecondary education benefits on the basis of residence unless citizens of the US are eligible to receive the same benefits without regard to residency status. § 68130.5(a) provides an exemption for nonresidents attending California colleges and universities who attended a California high school for at least three years. Justice Ming Chin, writing for the majority, held that § 68130.5(a) does not violate Federal Immigration law due to the fact that the exemption is not based on formal legal residency:
Because the exemption is given to all who have attended high school in California for at least three years (and meet the other requirements), and not all who have done so qualify as California residents for purposes of in-state tuition, and further because not all unlawful aliens who would qualify as residents but for their unlawful status are eligible for the exemption, we conclude the exemption is not based on residence in California. Rather, it is based on other criteria. Accordingly, section 68130.5 does not violate section 1623.Illegal immigrants will remain ineligible to receive state or federal financial aid benefits. Kris Kobach, counsel for IRLI says he will appeal the case [Reuters report] to the Supreme Court.
The IRLI lawsuit was one among many immigration suits currently pending across the country. Last month, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Arizona [official website] denied motions to dismiss a class action lawsuit [JURIST reports] challenging the constitutionality of the controversial Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive]. Under the law, it is designated a crime to be in the country illegally, and immigrants unable to verify their legal status could be arrested and jailed for six months and fined $2,500. In September, the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit [official website] ruled that two ordinances passed by the city of Hazleton, Pennsylvania, making it more difficult for illegal immigrants to live or work in the town are unconstitutional [JURIST report].