How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Heated reaction to news of court ruling upholding in-state tuition for undocumented students

Photo by CSU Stanislaus Photo/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Students at a commencement ceremony, May 2008

The California Supreme Court today issued a unanimous ruling that allows undocumented students to continue receiving in-state tuition at California colleges and universities, reversing a lower appeals court's decision. The ruling affirmed that the policy did not conflict with a federal ban on giving undocumented immigrants educational benefits based on residency.

Known as AB 540, the California policy allows for in-state tuition, as opposed to costlier out-of-state tuition, for undocumented students who graduate from and attend California high schools for at least three years. Several other states have similar policies, giving today's decision some weight beyond the state.

The challenge to AB 540 began with a lawsuit that sought to invalidate the California policy, upheld in the lower court. And in the hours since the state Supreme Court ruling was announced, the reaction to the news has been heated.

A lively debate is running in the comments section beneath the web page for KPCC's Patt Morrison show, which had a segment on the ruling this afternoon."Michael from Orange" wrote:

Illegal immigrants and/or their offspring who are not legal US citizens should absolutely not get the same financial eligibility to attend California's higher education schools as legal US citizens. This stance by our court system is not fair to legal US citizens given the limited resources this state and country are able to devote to our education system at this point in time.

We have to give a clear signal that you don't get rewarded for braking (sic) our immigration laws to help stop the flow of them over and taking unfair advantage of our system.


To which "Angel" responded:
We allow the illigals (sic) to come and work cleaning our house cutting our grass trimming our lawn but refuse to let their children to higher educations, do we expect the childrens of these illigals (sic) to do the same as their parents did, cleaning the toilets?

Readers who posted comments beneath an L.A. Times story had perhaps slightly better spelling than those on the KPCC site, but were almost unanimously up in arms over the decision. An example from a reader identified as "Outraged:"
I'm assuming the court worked out a reciprocal arrangement where US students will be afforded the same rights and priviledges at Mexican universities. What's that? No?!? Really? Then why would California do this? Oh I see, self-loathing liberals looking to destroy the United States.

Reactions were slightly more tempered among readers of The Chronicle of Higher Education. One reader identified as "Amnirov" posted beneath the story:
The shrill cry of "racism" is only ever intended to chill debate and squash any form of dissent. It is the first and last tactic of an utter douche, and those who use it on these forums should be immediately shamed for doing so.

Having said that, I see no reason why there should be separate in-state or an out-of-state tuition rates. Tuition at public institutions is already too low. There's no way that the system can support itself while anyone gets a break.

One tuition rate for all.


The debate over AB 540 has naturally spurred argument among students, too. An opinion piece published last month in Cal State Northridge's Daily Sundial opposing the state's policy drew a long string of comments.

The entire ruling on the case, Martinez v. Regents of the University of California, can be found here.

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