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Lawsuit filed over tuition break can proceed

A group is challenging in-state fees for illegal immigrant students.

September 17, 2008|Anna Gorman | Times Staff Writer

A state appellate court has ruled that a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a California law granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants can move forward.

A group of out-of-state students and parents filed a lawsuit in 2005 in Yolo County Superior Court against California's public university and community college systems, alleging that they were being charged higher tuition and fees than undocumented immigrants.

A lower court dismissed the suit, but the 3rd District Court of Appeal in Sacramento ruled Monday the case could continue.

The out-of-state students argue that federal law requires states that provide in-state rates to undocumented immigrant students to offer the same benefit to out-of-state students.

Ralph Kasarda, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said California's policy encourages illegal immigration. Anti-illegal immigration groups say the outcome of the case could affect California as well as other states that offer breaks to undocumented students.

"We are pleased with the ruling," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which favors stricter controls on illegal immigration. "Not only are valuable seats being given to illegal aliens, everybody else is being required to subsidize it."

The defendants maintain that California's law does not violate the federal statute. They say that more U.S. citizens benefit from the law, known as AB540, than do undocumented immigrants.

To obtain in-state tuition in California, students must have attended three years of high school in California, graduated here and gained admission to one of the state's colleges or universities.

Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights legal director Robert Rubin said these students are the state's "best and brightest."

"We should be doing everything we can to encourage their higher education so they can be fully contributing members of our society," Rubin said.

Cynthia Valenzuela, director of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said she was disappointed by the ruling. Valenzuela said the organization had received numerous calls from worried students, but she pointed out that California's law remains in effect.

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anna.gorman@latimes.com

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