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Tuition bill to assist illegals

Published Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Tuition bill to assist immigrants

By Carrie Sturrock

SACRAMENTO -- Undocumented immigrants could qualify for financial aid and pay in-state tuition to California's public colleges and universities under a bill moving through the legislature.

It is not a new initiative and has faced opposition in the past.

The bill's sponsors have put forth fresh analysis arguing it would not violate federal law as Gov. Gray Davis contended when he vetoed a similar initiative last year. And this time around, there is a groundswell of support that Assemblyman Marco Firebaugh, D-Cudahy, believes may help turn it into law.

Texas recently enacted similar legislation. And there is a move afoot in Congress to change the federal law that Davis cited in his veto message last year. In addition, Mexican President Vicente Fox, with whom Davis has sought to strengthen his relationship, advocated for the change during his visit to California this spring.

"We're cheating ourselves as a state," Firebaugh said. "These people will live out their lives in California. We can make the difference as to whether they're hamburger flippers or great business people or doctors or lawyers or teachers."

A version of the bill -- AB 540 -- has passed the Assembly and will now go before the Senate education committee today. It must then pass the Senate and will likely have to go to the Assembly again before it hits Davis' desk.

When Davis vetoed last year's bill, he argued it conflicted with federal law. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, he said, would have required California to give in-state tuition to any student in the country. He estimated the legislation's cost at $63.7 million. If the governor's concerns are not addressed this time, he will likely veto it again, spokesman Roger Salazar said.

The bill's sponsors distributed an opinion this week by the Legislative Counsel of California stating the legislation would not require the state to give in-state tuition to any eligible student in the nation.

Federal law prohibits states from offering a higher education benefit to undocumented immigrants not available to all U.S. citizens. The legislative counsel argues that would not happen. Undocumented immigrants would not get in-state tuition rates based on their residence in California, but on whether they had attended a California high school for three years and graduated.

The bill requires the state's community colleges and California State University system to offer in-state tuition and requests that the University of California system follow suit.

This bill goes further than the legislation Davis vetoed in two ways: Undocumented immigrants would be eligible for the Cal Grant program and Assumption Program of Loans for Education, and students do not have to be in the process of obtaining citizenship to pay in-state tuition. The bill's sponsors do not yet have a cost estimate.

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