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Tuition policies in question

UC, Cal State university systems may already allow those seeking citizenship to pay lower instate fees

By Carrie Sturrock
The Contra Costa (Calif.) Times, April 18, 2001

SACRAMENTO -- California State University and the University of California may already be allowed to charge undocumented immigrants instate tuition, say observers who have followed the legislative battle to win immigrants that right.

Undocumented immigrants who are seeking citizenship and have lived here a year and a day may be permitted to pay instate tuition to the state's two university systems, said Ricardo Lara, a spokesman for Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-Los Angeles, although he could not confirm that is the case.

The discovery of such a possibility is timely. Last year, Gov. Gray Davis vetoed a Firebaugh bill that would have allowed undocumented immigrants to pay instate tuition. And in his recent visit to California, Mexican President Vicente Fox called on the state to make higher education more accessible to immigrants.

Firebaugh did not learn of the possible existing policy until Monday. Poised for a second round of debate, he had crafted a new bill for this session, which he pulled from committee consideration Tuesday fearing that it could actually hinder undocumented immigrants in paying instate tuition.

"Maybe there isn't a need for a bill and maybe there is," Lara said. "All of this is hitting the fan just now. We don't know what's going on."

Whether state policies allow undocumented immigrants to pay instate tuition or not, Lara said, there is obviously still a problem: Students do not know about it and neither do counselors.

The difference in resident and nonresident tuition is great. The University of California's mandatory annual fees for residents total $3,964 while nonresidents pay in excess of $10,000. California State University charges residents $1,839 and nonresidents $7,380. Resident students at the community colleges pay $11 per unit and nonresidents pay $130.

In his veto, Davis contended that if last year's bill had become law, the federal Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 would have required California to charge instate tuition to any resident in the country. He estimated the cost to the state at $63.7 million.

Both of Firebaugh's bills applied to undocumented immigrants who have attended a California high school for three years and go on to college within a year of graduating.

This year's version went further. Undocumented immigrants would have been eligible for the state Cal Grant program and Assumption Program of Loans for Education. That's something he may still push to implement.

"That's something the assemblyman still feels passionately about," Lara said.

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