California Says ‘Yes’ To In-State Tuition For Undocumented Immigrants

Textbooks - Photo: Herzogbr/Flickr
Textbooks - Photo: Herzogbr/Flickr

(Photo: Herzogbr/Flickr)

Cautiously optimistic advocates cheered the California Supreme Court’s decision on Monday to continue allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges, assuming they attended high school in California for at least three years.

The unanimous decision came amid speculation about Congress taking up the DREAM Act in the lame duck session.  The bill that would encourage undocumented youth to attend college or join the military for at least two years, with the potential of gaining legal status. Supporters of the bill say the country will benefit from hundreds of thousands of educated and hardworking youth. Detractors say it rewards people for breaking the law.

The California court decision represents only one piece of the United States immigration puzzle concerning undocumented youth—at the other end of the spectrum, earlier this fall, the Georgia State Board of Regents voted to ban undocumented students from attending Georgia’s top five public colleges. They are allowed to attend the other public colleges in Georgia, if they pay out-of-state tuition rates.

California is only one of ten states that allow undocumented youth to pay in-state tuition at public colleges. It’s also the state where the issue is more tangible than probably anywhere else in the U.S., as over half of the students attending public K-12 education are Latino, and thousands are believed to be undocumented. By contrast, in Georgia, only 501 of 310,000 students within the university system are undocumented, a Regents spokesman told CNN. Despite the small numbers,  anger over undocumented students “taking the place” of citizens looms large in Georgia, and Governor-elect Nathan Deal supports banning undocumented students from Georgia’s public colleges altogether, even if they can pay. That is South Carolina’s current policy.

The range of state policies regarding undocumented students is likely to continue as long as there is no Congressional action on the DREAM Act, and until the U.S. Supreme Court makes a decision on whether in-state tuition rates for undocumented students violates the federal law barring them from participating in government financial-aid programs. The question comes down to whether or not the United States wants its young undocumented residents to attend higher education, or to prevent them from doing so.

AboutSarah Kate Kramer
Sarah Kate Kramer first got hooked on collecting stories as a StoryCorps facilitator, then traveled the world with a microphone for a few years before settling down in her hometown of New York City. From 2010-2012 she was the editor of Feet in 2 Worlds and a freelance reporter for WNYC Radio, where she created “Niche Market,” a weekly segment that profiled specialty stores in New York. Sarah is now a producer at Radio Diaries, a non-profit that produces documentaries for NPR and other public radio outlets.