The United States Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the state of California’s policy of granting in-state tuition at its colleges and universities to high school graduates who are undocumented immigrants, signaling again a willingness to give states some leeway when interpreting immigration laws.
That policy had been challenged by conservative groups who called it essentially “preferential treatment” for illegal immigrants in violation of a federal law that bars states from giving “any postsecondary benefit” to an “alien who is not lawfully present in the United States on the basis of residence within a state.”
The California Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the state’s policy of granting in-state tuition to high school grads regardless of their immigration status did not conflict with federal law. According to the California Supreme Court the tuition benefit turned on a student’s graduation status, not his or her residency and the state was therefore free to set tuition standards as it saw fit.
Defenders of the policy pointed to the numerous people who took advantage of the in-state tuition policy who were U.S. citizens who hailed from other states.
Ironically, those challenging the policy accused the states of playing “semantic games” to “defeat the objectives of Congress.” Which goes to show that conservatives support states-rights arguments up to the point where those states take action that deviate from traditional conservative platforms like anti-immigration measure, for example.
Eleven other states have laws and policies similar to California’s on the books, meaning that the refusal by the justices to hear this appeal leaves those provisions in place. Some of those states, like Utah Nebraska also have harsh Arizona-style immigration laws either passed or pending while another twelve states have an outright ban on granting in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
Congress may not have the political will to act on immigration, but they are quickly running out of room to hold tight to their cowardice. The refusal to hear the appeal is good news on many fronts, but also a reminder that something as critical as immigration reform remains a patchwork of competing laws and interests, outdated and out of size for the current needs of this country. And continuing to refuse to act or find some humane common ground will only make this mess worse.
photo courtesy of Barnaby via Flickr