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Friday, May 15, 2009

I Wanna be An Illegal Alien, Too

By Nedra Pickler

Students from 19 states yesterday filed a class-action lawsuit seeking hundreds of millions of dollars from California officials for charging them significantly more than illegal aliens pay to attend state-run colleges.

The 42 plaintiffs say California state lawmakers and the University of California board of regents knowingly violated a federal law enacted in 1996 that says any state that offers discounted in-state tuition to its illegal aliens must provide the same lower rates to all U.S. citizens.

California has a "unique" statute barring discrimination on the basis of geographic origin, said lead attorney Michael J. Brady.

Some students in the University of California system could be eligible for as much as $300,000 in total damages, he said.

The plaintiffs' attorneys say the lawsuit was filed in a state court in Yolo County on behalf of about 60,000 U.S. citizens who have paid out-of-state tuition to attend public higher-education institutions in California since 2002.

Mr. Brady said out-of-state students are paying $20,000 more than illegal aliens per year to attend schools in the University of California system. In the California state university system, the difference is $11,000 per year.

"And in the community college system in California, which has a total of 1.5 million students, the tuition differential is $6,000 a year," he said.

Mr. Brady and fellow counsel Kris W. Kobach, a law professor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, announced their litigation at a press conference in Sacramento.

California and Kansas are among eight states that have laws granting lower in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens who qualify as in-state residents.

Critics say those state laws violate a federal statute, which took effect in 1998, that says any state that offers discounted in-state tuition rates at public colleges to illegals living in the state must provide the same lower rates to all U.S. citizens who attend. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, Texas Republican, and Sen. Alan K. Simpson, Wyoming Republican.

Mr. Brady said California officials knew their tuition law that took effect in 2002 was unfair and illegal.

"Former Governor Gray Davis initially vetoed it, saying it violated federal law and that it would cost California $65 million [in damages]," Mr. Brady said. "He sent it back to the state Legislature with that warning, but they re-enacted the same law," which Mr. Davis eventually signed.

Mr. Brady said administrators of the University of California system also recognized that the state law was invalid, and they refused to implement it unless they were "given immunity." As a result, he said, California lawmakers enacted an "immunity statute," which says that if the state tuition law is declared illegal or unconstitutional, schools in the University of California system would not be held liable for retroactive tuition differences.

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