The California Supreme Court upheld a law supporting higher education for undocumented students, which includes noncitizens and nonresidents, in a ruling last Monday.
The court unanimously backed the California Immigrant Higher Education Act — also known as AB 540 — which allows select California nonresidents to pay in-state student fees when enrolled in a public state college. The lawsuit challenging the law asked that illegal immigrants who currently benefit from AB 540 — but cannot receive any form of financial aid — to pay out-of-state tuition.
Robert Martinez and forty-two other U.S. citizens filed the lawsuit challenging AB 540 in 2005 under the stipulation that the law excludes nonresident U.S. citizens.
Although the law benefits undocumented students, two-thirds of recipients since the 2002-03 school year have been documented students, according to a UC Office of the President press release. Additionally, 80 percent of the students who qualified for exemptions in the 2008-09 school year were either citizens or legal residents.
UC spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the university admits students based on academic record, not citizenship status.
“Whether or not the student is undocumented or not is not part of the admissions criteria,” Vazquez said. “So the student is admitted on the strength of their academic record. These are students, some of whom are undocumented, who qualify for AB 540, who through their persistence and great academic record have been accepted to the UC system.”
Only students who graduated from a California high school attended for at least three years qualify for AB 540.
Associated Students External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Doug Wagoner, a third-year history major, said providing a more affordable education to undocumented high school graduates does not violate federal law.
“I think that it is a really positive step for the situation of undocumented students in California, and I’m just really happy that the California Supreme Court sees the value in these students and their contribution to our state of California,” Wagoner said. “These students are hardworking individuals, some of the hardest-working individuals. I think it’s just really important that we keep prioritizing affordable higher education for everyone who wants it in the state of California.”
Undocumented student Nayra Pacheco, a third-year history and environmental studies major, said she wouldn’t be able to afford a college education if the court had reversed AB 540.
“I’m really happy that it did get upheld,” Pacheco said. “I’m one of the students that falls under the eligibility requirements of AB 540, meaning that I wouldn’t be at UCSB if AB 540 wasn’t upheld, period. There are many students in the exact same position I am. It definitely provides access to some institutions we wouldn’t normally have access to.”
Pacheco added that she joined a campus support group for undocumented students to promote campus diversity.
“As many students would assume, it’s made out to be a more Latino issue, but we have members from all over the world, not just Mexico,” Pacheco said. “We have people from Belize, from Canada, who are here as undocumented students and contribute to our diversity here on campus.”