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Court Requires Tuition Hike for Undocumented

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a decision that put California’s public colleges out of reach for most illegal immigrant students, a Los Angeles appellate court has ruled that the California State University system must charge out-of-state tuition to students who are California residents but are in the United States illegally.

The state appeals panel ruling, handed down Tuesday, means that undocumented students enrolled full time at any of the 21 Cal State campuses will have to pay annual fees and tuition of $8,964--more than five times the $1,585 now charged to all California residents, regardless of immigration status.

Officials at Cal State Fullerton said no changes will be made until instructions come from the chancellor’s office.

The ruling would align tuition policies at Cal State with the University of California and state community colleges. Those campuses impose out-of-state fees on illegal immigrant students in line with a 1990 court ruling. Cal State officials have been following the conflicting dictates of an earlier court decision mandating the lower in-state tuition charges for undocumented students.

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Tuesday’s ruling arose from a lawsuit supported by several groups that were also principal supporters of Proposition 187, the successful ballot initiative now largely bottled up in the courts that would deny all public education and most other taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants.

“The basic concept here is parallel: Public institutions shouldn’t be giving subsidies to illegal aliens,” said Alan C. Nelson, an author of Proposition 187 and co-counsel in the lawsuit challenging Cal State’s tuition policy.

Analysts said an appeal of the ruling to the California Supreme Court is unlikely, meaning that students seeking admission to Cal State campuses for the fall semester will probably be charged out-of-state fees if they cannot prove they are legal U.S. residents.

It is still to be determined, Cal State spokesman Steve MacCarthy said, whether the tuition increases will be imposed solely on new students, or whether they will be extended to current students who are in the United States illegally.

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Cal State officials must also devise a process for determining prospective students’ residency status, but will probably opt for a system like that used in the UC system, MacCarthy said.

UC officials require that new and returning students disclose their residency status before tuition fees are paid, said Janet Hoehn, coordinator of legal analysts for the UC system. Those who say they are not U.S. citizens must provide verification of their legal status, Hoehn said, and if they cannot prove it, they are assessed tuition of almost $12,000--compared to $4,111 for other California residents.

The number of illegal immigrants enrolled at Cal State schools is small--fewer than 1,000 of the 320,000 students, according to university estimates.

Jim Blackburn, director of admissions and records at Cal State Fullerton, said officials there do not estimate how many illegal immigrants attend the campus.

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Currently, Fullerton admissions employees request copies of green cards if students state they are legal aliens on college applications. They also request paperwork from those who declare they are refugees.

Students who say they are U.S. citizens are not asked for proof of legal residency, Blackburn said.

In a state increasingly polarized about the issue of immigration, the use of any public expenditures to educate illegal immigrants has sparked fierce debate.

A major consequence of the latest court ruling, lawyers on both sides of the case agree, will be to make it almost impossible for most illegal immigrants--the vast majority of them from low-income families--to obtain college degrees at California’s public universities.

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“There is going to be a lot of disappointment” among the students at Huntington Park High School, said counselor Linda Loya, where about 15% of the 650 graduating seniors are undocumented.

Students are already struggling to raise money for the lower fees, Loya said, so a tuition bill that is significantly higher “will definitely knock them out” of the Cal State applicant pool.

Monica Hernandez, a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan at Cal State Fullerton, expects students to talk about the court decision when they return to class on Jan. 30. Hernandez tied the decision to fervor swirling around Proposition 187.

“All of our tuition is going up, and they’ve found another scapegoat,” said Hernandez, who actively opposed Proposition 187 on campus last fall. “I’m sure that with out-of-state tuition for undocumented people, it’ll be one more thing we have to discuss and take a stand against.”

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Illegal immigrants are also barred from receiving federal and state college loans and grants.

“The net result is that aspiring college students, who could contribute to our communities, will be relegated to the lower rungs of our economic system,” said Robert Rubin, assistant director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, who represented illegal immigrant students in the case. “Their opportunities will be artificially capped by the implementation of this law.”

Monica, a senior at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, was planning to attend Cal State L.A. next fall. “Now maybe I won’t be able to,” she said. “It’s really sad. . . . I had in mind someday making my contribution to society.”

Proponents of higher tuition fees for illegal immigrants maintain that those who are in the country unlawfully do not deserve a tuition break in an education system that is strapped for money.

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“We have citizens, American-born kids of all ethnic backgrounds, who are suffering because we have overloaded the system and can’t provide for everybody,” said Leslie Dutton, president of the Santa Monica-based American Assn. of Women, a nonprofit group that led the lawsuit against the Cal State tuition policy.


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