In a decision that maintains contradictory policies in public higher education, a Superior Court judge has ruled that the 20-campus California State University system must continue to charge in-state fees to students who are undocumented immigrants.
Because of a separate, earlier ruling by a state appeals court, both the UC system and community colleges this year have begun to treat the undocumented as out-of-staters, charging them much more than the standard fee for California residents. The state Supreme Court, in effect, allowed that ruling to stand when it refused to hear UC’s appeal.
Cal State fees for in-state residents in 1992-93 are expected to total $1,308, excluding room, board and books, while a full load of courses will cost non-residents $8,688 a year. About 500 students out of the 362,000 enrolled in the Cal State system are thought to be affected by the ruling, according to testimony in the case.
Despite the contradiction with the two other legs of state higher education, Cal State officials said they will not appeal the new decision.
However, conservative political activists who contend the state should not subsidize the education of illegal immigrants said they may challenge the latest ruling.
In the decision made public Wednesday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Ken M. Kawaichi declared that the state Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection forbid Cal State from using immigration status to deny lower education fees to students who have lived in California for more than a year. To treat them otherwise, Kawaichi wrote, would foreclose education opportunities and “forces the undocumented person into the fierce competitive pool of those seeking the lowest-paying jobs in our society.”
Kawaichi upheld his similar 1985 ruling in the “Leticia A.” case, named after one of the illegal immigrant Cal State students seeking to keep the lower fees. The Cal State system last year asked Kawaichi whether his 1985 injunction still stood in light of the opposite ruling by a state appeals court affecting UC.
“All we were asking for was direction of the court,” said Stephen J. MacCarthy, a Cal State spokesman.
Robert Rubin, one of the attorneys representing the students, praised Kawaichi’s decision. “We believe it vindicates important interests of immigrant students and we believe it vindicates important public policies,” said Rubin of the San Francisco-based Lawyers’ Committee for Urban Affairs. “The alternative is to deny people the tool to become fuller contributors to society and to deny them access to higher education, relegating them to a permanent class.”
However, Leslie Dutton, president of the American Assn. of Women, a conservative organization in Santa Monica, said she was shocked by the new ruling and was considering legal action to overturn it.
“We can’t believe a Superior Court judge would rule against the Supreme Court,” she said. “If this decision is allowed to stand, we’ve lost the whole structure of the court system and the law.”
Her organization aided David Bradford, the former UCLA employee who successfully challenged UC’s policy of charging in-state fees to immigrants who are in the country illegally.
In May, 1990, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David P. Yaffee ruled in Bradford’s favor, saying that illegal immigrant students should not be considered California residents in calculating their college costs.
UC appealed but lost. After the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case last spring and Gov. Pete Wilson vetoed legislation that would have enabled undocumented students to be treated as other residents, both UC and the community colleges changed their policies to conform to the Bradford decision.