Cali’s High Court Stands Up for Undocumented College Students

Rejects effort to block them from in-state tuition rates.

By Julianne Hing Nov 16, 2010

The California state Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday morning to protect undocumented students’ rights to pay in-state tuition, reversing a lower court’s decision.

Martinez v. UC Regents was heard in Fresno last month. Robert Martinez joined 42 U.S. citizens from 19 states in suing the University of California system, charging that California law AB 540 violated their constitutional rights. AB 540 grants in-state tuition at public colleges to any student who attended a California high school for at least three years.

A lower court had ruled the law unconstitutional, arguing that it violated federal immigration laws that prohibit states from giving undocumented students special privileges that U.S. citizens cannot access. Monday’s decision from the state’s high court said that U.S. citizens could absolutely access the same benefits.

Despite the favorable ruling, undocumented students are still barred from government financial aid. And in a state where public higher education tuition increases with clocklike regularity, undocumented students’ ability to pay for school is still an uphill battle. The LA Times reports that about 25,000 students in California benefit from AB 540 every year.

The ruling comes after a heated election season in California that often centered on immigration issues, and particularly undocumented students’ access to education. Meg Whitman, in her failed campaign to win the gubernatorial seat in California, often said she would halt undocumented students’ rights to access in-state tuition. Similar issues turned up in congressional elections with tea party candidates.

Around the country there’s a growing movement at the state level to bar undocumented students from going to public colleges. Georgia’s board of regents recently voted to ban undocumented students from attending any state or public institution of higher education.