A California appellate court last week issued a ruling that supports a lawsuit challenging a state law that grants illegal immigrants heavily subsidized in-state tuition at California public universities and colleges. The court found that the 2001 law conflicts with federal law.
As I read the ruling, I asked the question the judges cannot answer as it is a policy issue best left to elected lawmakers: Why would a state subsidize the college tuition of students who cannot work legally in the United States when they graduate?
Does California not have enough educated, angry people?
Or does the state have so few angry, educated people that it sees fit to spend more than $17,000 per year on tuition for University of California students, more than $13,000 for California State University students and $109 per credit for some 15,000 or more community college students so that they can be unable to get a job that requires a college degree when they graduate? From what I've seen, employers who hire college graduates aren't anxious to pay professional salaries to workers who can be deported. Thus California's in-state tuition tax break and those in nine other states pave the long, expensive road to underemployment.
The law in question, Assembly Bill 540, was signed by Gov. Gray Davis, who told me six years ago, "I believe someone who spends three years in high school and on their own merit gains admission to a California college should not be denied the opportunity to complete their education because their parents many years ago many have decided to enter the country illegally."
I feel for those kids, whose parents broke the law and got them into this situation. But is the answer to let them pay in-state tuition still significant at $6,769 for UC or $3,164 for CSU for a degree that can't help them get a job?
John Trasvina, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, believes that the in-state tuition law works because after graduation, students may be able to work legally thanks to "changes in the immigration law and changes in their status." If students graduate with a technical degree, Trasvina added, employers can apply for an H-1B visa to hire them.
UC attorney Christopher M. Patti told me, "I think the notion is that they're kids who will ultimately be able to regulate their status. Many have been here for many, many years."
But UC doesn't really know what happens to these graduates. They may never become citizens, or they may work illegally no one knows.
According to UC stats, last school year, over 1,600 students benefited from AB540. Most of the beneficiaries 1,184 students this year, it turns out, are U.S. citizens, permanent residents, or legal immigrants, who did not meet the old residency requirements, perhaps because they went to boarding school or attended an out-of-state college before applying to grad school. As for illegal immigrants, 271 students are dubbed "potentially undocumented," while another 162 show some documentation. UC doesn't know how many undocumented graduates later become citizens or legal residents.
CSU doesn't keep statistics on undocumented students. There are an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 undocumented students attending California community colleges.
Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri law professor who represents plaintiffs suing California, noted that many are outraged that Sacramento chose to subsidize students in the country illegally while charging full freight to law-abiding students from other states. Some of his clients told him, "When we graduate, we are going to stay here. So why is the state not subsidizing our education? In contrast, illegal aliens cannot work anywhere in the state."
Kobach also said he was eager to take on the case "because this is an example of a state thumbing its nose at federal law," which stipulates that states cannot provide breaks to illegal immigrants for post-secondary education unless any citizen is eligible for that benefit, regardless of where he lives.
"It is a compelling government interest to remove the incentive for illegal immigration provided by the availability of public benefits," Congress wrote in earlier immigration law. Now, I don't think that many illegal immigrants come to the United States to send their kids to Berkeley. But I also don't know why California taxpayers should fund a Berkeley education for a student who can't work in this country legally.
Whatever happens to this lawsuit, Sacramento should not be subsidizing tuition for students who can't work legally, and Washington ought to be working on a compromise that does not encourage further illegal immigration, but finds a way to help young people who didn't choose to come to this country, but do choose to better themselves.