2011's Top Five Immigration Myths
As the 2012 GOP presidential primary race continues and as fallout over state-based anti-immigrant laws occurs, anti-immigration rhetoric has heated up on both the state and national level, with public figures perpetuating a number of myths that previously circulated primarily among xenophobic organizations. Political Correction has rounded up this year's top five myths about immigration, which focus on immigrant voter fraud, prosecutorial discretion, in-state tuition laws, building a border fence, and mass deportations. A closer look at these myths shows what you might expect — that they're based in expedient political rhetoric and not on facts.
FACT: There Is "Virtually No Evidence" Of Widespread Voter Fraud And Non-Citizen Voting Is Even Rarer
During An Aggressive Campaign By The Bush Administration To Go After Illegal Voting, "Only 14 Federal Convictions For Voter Fraud Involving Non-Citizens." From an NPR segment quoting Lorraine Minnite, author of The Myth of Voter Fraud:
MINNITE: People who are here who are undocumented don't tend to go around trying to, you know, bring attention to themselves, especially doing something that is illegal.
PAM FESSLER (NPR REPORTER): She found that there were only 14 federal convictions for voter fraud involving non-citizens from 2002 until 2005, when the Bush administration had an aggressive campaign to go after such crimes. Minnite says often immigrants are confused.
MINNITE: It was absolutely clear that there were some people who just did not understand that they could not vote. [NPR.org, 11/5/10]
Brennan Center: The Penalty For Noncitizen Voting "Is So Severe" And The Benefits Are "So Minimal" That "It Makes Sense That Extremely Few Noncitizens Would Attempt To Vote." According to the Brennan Center for Justice:
We are not aware of any documented cases in which individual noncitizens have either intentionally registered to vote or voted while knowing that they were ineligible. Given that the penalty (not only criminal prosecution, but deportation) is so severe, and the payoff (one incremental vote) is so minimal for any individual voter, it makes sense that extremely few noncitizens would attempt to vote, knowing that doing so is illegal.
Although there are a few recorded examples in which noncitizens have apparently registered or voted, investigators have concluded that they were likely not aware that doing so was improper. In one highly publicized case, for example, noncitizens were given voter registration forms by a group helping them through the naturalization process, immediately after successfully completing citizenship interviews with federal officials and receiving letters beginning "Congratulations, your application for citizenship has been approved." Though the actual swearing-in ceremonies were still up to 90 days away, these individuals most likely mistakenly thought it their obligation and privilege to complete the paperwork, and did not intentionally fabricate their citizenship status in front of federal officials who knew that they were noncitizens.
Far more common than these incidents of noncitizen voting are allegations of noncitizen voting that prove wholly unfounded. These claims are often premised on matching lists of voters from one place to another, but as with each of the examples above, upon closer inspection, the match process shows error. The interpretation may be flawed, as when two list entries under the same name indicate different individuals. Or the lists themselves may be flawed, with an individual marked due to a clerical error as voting when she did not in fact cast a ballot.
Government citizenship records - as the government itself acknowledges - are also replete with errors or incomplete information. Naturalization documentation may find its way into the government files slowly, or not at all, leaving outdated or inaccurate information for investigators looking for fraud. And this, in turn, leads to flawed accusations that noncitizens have been voting, when the voters in question have in fact become fully naturalized American citizens. [Brennan Center for Justice, 2007, emphasis added]
There Is "Virtually No Evidence" Of Any Organized Voter Fraud Whatsoever. According to the New York Times:
Five years after the Bush administration began a crackdown on voter fraud, the Justice Department has turned up virtually no evidence of any organized effort to skew federal elections, according to court records and interviews.
Although Republican activists have repeatedly said fraud is so widespread that it has corrupted the political process and, possibly, cost the party election victories, about 120 people have been charged and 86 convicted as of last year. [...]
A handful of convictions involved people who voted twice. More than 30 were linked to small vote-buying schemes in which candidates generally in sheriff's or judge's races paid voters for their support.
A federal panel, the Election Assistance Commission, reported last year that the pervasiveness of fraud was debatable. That conclusion played down findings of the consultants who said there was little evidence of it across the country, according to a review of the original report by The New York Times that was reported on Wednesday.
Mistakes and lapses in enforcing voting and registration rules routinely occur in elections, allowing thousands of ineligible voters to go to the polls. But the federal cases provide little evidence of widespread, organized fraud, prosecutors and election law experts said. [New York Times, 4/12/07]
MYTH: The Obama Administration Is Granting "Amnesty" To Some Undocumented Immigrants By Choosing Not To Deport Them
FACT: ICE And DHS Authorized Prosecutorial Discretion To Focus Resources On Undocumented Felons Over Veterans And Schoolkids
ICE Memo Explains Prosecutorial Discretion Must Be Used "Because The Agency Is Confronted With More Administrative Violations Than Its Resources Can Address." According to a memo by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton:
One of ICE's central responsibilities is to enforce the nation's civil immigration laws in coordination with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). ICE, however, has limited resources to remove those illegally in the United States. ICE must prioritize the use of its enforcement personnel, detention space, and removal assets to ensure that the aliens it removes represent, as much as reasonably possible, the agency's enforcement priorities, namely the promotion of national security, border security, public safety, and the integrity of the immigration system. These priorities are outlined in the ICE Civil Immigration Enforcement Priorities memorandum of March 2, 2011, which this memorandum is intended to support.
Because the agency is confronted with more administrative violations than its resources can address, the agency must regularly exercise "prosecutorial discretion" if it is to prioritize its efforts. In basic terms, prosecutorial discretion is the authority of an agency charged with enforcing a law to decide to what degree to enforce the law against a particular individual. ICE, like any other law enforcement agency, has prosecutorial discretion and may exercise it in the ordinary course of enforcement. When ICE favorably exercises prosecutorial discretion; it essentially decides not to assert the full scope of the enforcement authority available to the agency in a given case. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo, 6/17/11, emphasis added]
DHS Announced Prosecutorial Discretion Guidelines To Ensure Its "Enforcement Priorities Are Focused On Removing Persons Who Are Most Dangerous To The Country" And Not "Low Priority Cases." According to the American Immigration Council:
Today, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced that it would put guidelines in place across all immigration agencies to ensure that its enforcement priorities are focused on removing persons who are most dangerous to the country.
In a letter to Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and other senators who had requested that DHS consider deferring the removal of all DREAM Act eligible students, DHS announced that it would not categorically defer removal, but that persons who were not high priority targets for removal would have the opportunity to request prosecutorial discretion on a case by case basis. Low priority cases-previously identified in a prosecutorial discretion memo issued by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton on June 17-include persons who are not criminals and have been in the country since childhood, have strong community ties, are veterans or relatives of persons in the armed services, are caregivers, have serious health issues, are victims of crime or otherwise have a strong basis for remaining in the United States. [American Immigration Council, 9/18/11]
Immigration Law Specialist: Those Accusing The Administration Of "A Back Door Amnesty ... Are Wrong." According to Aggie R. Hoffman, a specialist in U.S. immigration and nationality law, via the Huffington Post: "I have received many questions and requests for assistance in the wake of Pres. Obama's announcement on August 18, 2011 of prosecutorial discretion. Because it has been reported that employment authorization may also be provided, both pro and anti-immigrant voices have been clamoring about this benefit. Those in the U.S. in unlawful status want to apply for this "work permit" while opponents are accusing the administration of a back door amnesty. Both are wrong." [Huffington Post, 8/24/11]
IPC: ICE Memo And DHS Announcement Do "Not Provide Additional Forms Of Relief For Noncitizens." From the Immigration Policy Center:
Do the June 17 Prosecutorial Discretion Memo or the New Guidelines Provide Additional Forms of Relief?
No, the June 17 Prosecutorial Discretion memo does not provide additional forms of relief for noncitizens. Instead, the memo clarifies the factors that should be considered in exercising prosecutorial discretion, and in the process provides noncitizens and their representatives a better understanding of what cases are appropriate for deferrals or other action. The memo also clarifies which ICE officers can exercise prosecutorial discretion, increasing the probability that prosecutorial discretion will be exercised before an individual's case reaches immigration court. Ultimately, however, each case will continue to be decided individually on the basis of all available information.
The same is true for DHS's announcement on August 18. The two-pronged initiative will implement the enforcement priorities set forth in the Morton memo, but will not create any new forms of relief for individuals. For example, administrative closure of cases has long been available as a procedural convenience for immigration courts, ICE attorneys and noncitizens in removal proceedings. Similarly, more than a decade ago, former Commissioner Doris Meissner of the legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service instructed immigration officers about their authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion, including their authority to refrain from initiating removal proceedings against a noncitizen. [Immigration Policy Center, 9/9/11]
IPC: Prosecutorial Discretion Is Not A New Idea And Is "Inherent In Our System Of Laws, Regardless Of The Substantive Issue." From the Immigration Policy Center:
Is Prosecutorial Discretion a New Idea in Immigration Enforcement?
No. Prosecutorial discretion exists whenever a government official is empowered to decide whether to pursue charges against someone. Consequently, prosecutorial discretion is inherent in our system of laws, regardless of the substantive issue. In the immigration context, research conducted by Shoba Sivraprasad Wadhia shows that immigration agencies and officials have a long and rich history of using prosecutorial discretion to resolve cases involving significant equities, policy calls, or practical resource issues. In 2000, then-INS Commissioner Doris Meissner issued guidance clearly articulating the role of prosecutorial discretion in immigration enforcement. That guidance remains in operation and has served as the touchstone for a series of other DHS memos on exercising discretion. The Morton Memo on prosecutorial discretion is the most recent of at least thirteen such memos. [Immigration Policy Center, 9/9/11]
FACT: "Total Control" Of The Border Is Impossible
All Three Former And Current DHS Secretaries Have "Concluded ... That An Airtight Border Is Unachievable." According to the Center for American Progress:
As former Secretary Michael Chertoff said recently: "You can, depending where you are on the border, use a series of tools in order to minimize the flow. Is it going to be an absolute seal? No. But will it, again, manage the risk in conjunction with these other tools? Yes."
Moreover, Chertoff, Tom Ridge, and Janet Napolitano-the only three people to have served as secretary of homeland security since the department was created-all concluded at a recent event honoring the eighth anniversary of the Homeland Security Department's creation that extraordinary work has been done in strengthening the border but that an airtight border is unachievable and lasting and effective border security requires an overhaul of our immigration system.
Ridge observed that: "At some point in time, you've got to say to yourself, we're not sending 12 million people home. Now, let's get over it ... let's just figure out a way to legitimize their status, create a new system. And I think that will add more to border security than any number of fences we can put across the southern border." [Center for American Progress, 3/29/11, emphasis added]
Former Customs And Border Protection Commissioner: Building A Fence Along The Whole Border "Was One Of The Dumbest Ideas I Heard When I Was Commissioner. ... None Of The Fencing Is Impenetrable." According to an op-ed in U.S. News & World Report by former Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Ralph Basham: "Building a physical fence along the entire border with Mexico was one of the dumbest ideas I heard when I was commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. It is critical to recognize that fencing (even with barbed wire, electrification, and possibly a moat filled with alligators) is not a solution, it is only a tool. There's a fundamental misunderstanding about what a physical barrier-even the triple-layer fencing in San Diego--actually does or doesn't do for the agency charged with building fencing and securing the border. All it really does is buy you time where a crosser could otherwise quickly escape or assimilate. None of the fencing is impenetrable. People will eventually dig under it or cut through it or go over it, but it gives you enough time to respond and apprehend them. Some fencing makes sense tactically in areas selected by the Border Patrol, as where we deployed some 700 miles of it under my tenure, and in many of those areas it has been a tool to provide permanent impedance to deter and slow illegal entries on foot or by vehicle." [U.S. News & World Report¸ 10/25/11, empahsis added]
Finishing A Full Border Fence Would Cost The Government At Least $2.5 Billion To Build And Tens Of Billions To Maintain. According to the Immigration Policy Center: "Based on figures from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, a fence along all 2,000 miles of the southwest border would cost at least $2.5 billion to build, plus anywhere from $33 billion to $140 billion to maintain over the following two-and-a-half decades, depending upon how many breaches the fencing sustains which must be repaired." [Immigration Policy Center, 4/13/10]
GAO: Per-Mile Costs Of Fencing Completed by 2008 Ranged From $400,000 To $15.1 Million. According to a Government Accountability Office report:
CBP had completed about 73 miles of primary SBI fencing costing approximately $198 million as of September 30, 2007, and about 215 miles of fencing costing about $625 million as of October 31, 2008. Seventy-one of the miles completed as of September 30, 2007, were pedestrian fencing completed at costs ranging from $400,000 to $4.8 million per mile and averaging $2.8 million per mile. CBP had also finished about 2 miles of vehicle fencing at a cost of $2.8 million. Pedestrian fencing accounted for 140 of the miles that CBP had completed as of October 31, 2008, costs ranging from $400,000 to $15.1 million per mile for an average of $3.9 million per mile. Seventy-five of the miles were vehicle fencing and costs ranged from $200,000 to $1.8 million per mile, averaging $1.0 million per mile. The per mile costs to build the fencing varied considerably because of the type of fencing, topography, materials used, land acquisition costs, and labor costs, among other things.
As of October 31, 2008, CBP reported that approximately 32 miles of secondary fence existed along the southwest border and about 18 of those miles had an average construction cost of $2 million per mile. [GAO, 1/29/09, emphasis added]
NYT: "Analysts Say That Building And Maintaining A Fence ... Would Run Into Billions Of Dollars, With No Documented Impact On Diminishing Illegal Crossings." According to the New York Times:
Based on what studies do exist, the analysts say that building and maintaining a fence through the remote or hostile terrain along the border would run into billions of dollars, with no documented impact on diminishing illegal crossings.
So far border authorities have built 650 miles of hard fence along the southwest border, including about 299 miles of vehicle barriers.
In 2009, the Congressional Search Service reported that the Department of Homeland Security had spent roughly up to $21 million per mile to build a primary fence near San Diego. The cost had ballooned as the fence extended into hills and gullies along the line.
The same year, Customs and Border Protection estimated costs of building an additional 3.5 miles of fence near San Diego at $16 million per mile. Even this lower figure would yield a rough projection of $22.4 billion for a single fence across the 1,400 miles remaining today.
These estimates do not include the costs of acquiring land, nor the expense of maintaining a fence that is exposed to constant efforts by illegal crossers to bore through it or under it or to bring it down. In March, Customs and Border Protection estimated it would cost $6.5 billion "to deploy, operate and maintain" the existing border fencing over an expected maximum lifetime of 20 years. The agency reported repairing 4,037 breaches in 2010 alone. [New York Times, 10/20/11]
CRS: "The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Has Estimated That Border Fencing Would Cost $3 Million A Mile To Construct." According to the Congressional Research Service: "The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has estimated that border fencing would cost $3 million a mile to construct and that maintenance would total roughly 15% of the overall project costs per year. However, the CBO does not elaborate on what is included in those estimates." [Congressional Research Service, 3/16/09]
GAO: "According to CBP, During Fiscal Year 2010, There Were 4, 037 Documented And Repaired Breaches Of The Fencing." According to a Government Accountability Office report:
We reported in May 2010 that CBP had not accounted for the impact of its investment in border fencing and infrastructure on border security. Border fencing was designed to prevent people on foot and vehicles from crossing the border and to enhance Border Patrol agents' ability to respond to areas of illegal entry. CBP estimated that the border fencing had a life cycle of 20 years and over these years, a total estimated cost of about $6.5 billion to deploy, operate, and maintain the fencing and other infrastructure. According to CBP, during fiscal year 2010, there were 4,037 documented and repaired breaches of the fencing and CBP spent at least $7.2 million to repair the breaches, or an average of about $1,800 per breach. CBP reported an increase in control of southwest border miles, but could not account separately for the impact of the border fencing and other infrastructure. In our May 4, 2010, testimony, we concluded that until CBP determines the contribution of border fencing and other infrastructure to border security, it is not positioned to address the impact of its investment; and reported that in response to a prior recommendation, CBP was in the process of conducting an analysis of the impact of tactical infrastructure on border security. [GAO, 3/30/11, emphasis added]
FACT: Deporting The Millions Of Undocumented Immigrants Currently In America Would Cost Billions Of Dollars And Millions Of Jobs
Even After The Market Adjusted, Removing Undocumented Workers From Economy Would Cost Billions Of Dollars And Millions Of Jobs. According to an Americans for Immigration Reform report prepared by The Perryman Group: "The dynamic effects of removing undocumented workers from the US economy" would cost over $551 billion in total expenditures, nearly $245 billion in lost GDP, and 2.8 million lost permanent jobs. [Americans for Immigration Reform, April 2008]
Eliminating The Undocumented Workforce "Reduces U.S. GDP By 1.46 Percent" Amounting "To $2.6 Trillion In Cumulative Lost GDP Over 10 Years." According to The Center for American Progress: "Mass deportation reduces U.S. GDP by 1.46 percent. This amounts to $2.6 trillion in cumulative lost GDP over 10 years, not including the actual cost of deportation. Wages would rise for less-skilled native-born workers, but would diminish for higher-skilled natives, and would lead to widespread job loss." [Center for American Progress, 1/7/10, internal citation removed]
Mass Deportation And Interior Enforcement Would Cost The U.S. $285 Billion Over Five Years. According to the Center for American Progress:
The second option, mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, is essentially the enforcement-only status quo on steroids. As this paper demonstrates, this option would be prohibitively expensive and trigger profound collateral consequences. Our analysis is comprised of a detailed review of all federal spending to prevent unauthorized immigration and deport undocumented immigrants in FY 2008, the last fiscal year (ending in October 2008) for which there is complete data. It shows that the total cost of mass deportation and continuing border interdiction and interior enforcement efforts would be $285 billion (in 2008 dollars) over five years.
Specifically, this report calculates a price tag of $200 billion to enforce a federal dragnet that would snare the estimated 10.8 million undocumented immigrants in the United States over five years. That amount, however, does not include the annual recurring border and interior enforcement spending that will necessarily have to occur. It would cost taxpayers at least another $17 billion annually (in 2008 dollars) to maintain the status quo at the border and in the interior, or a total of nearly $85 billion over five years. That means the total five-year immigration enforcement cost under a mass deportation strategy would be approximately $285 billion. [Center for American Progress, March 2010, emphasis added]
Detaining Undocumented Immigrants Who Face Removal Is Very Expensive. According to the National Immigration Forum:
A cost-effective approach to monitoring immigrants who face removal is unlikely to be implemented as long as Congress continues to throw money at the detention operations of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), located in the Department of Homeland Security. For the Fiscal Year beginning October 1, 2011 (Fiscal Year 2012), the House of Representatives has approved a budget of $2.75 billion for Detention and Removal-more than $184 million more than the previous year and enough for ICE to keep 34,000 immigrants detained at any one time.
The Obama Administration's most recent request to Congress for immigration detention alone amounts to $5.5 million per day spent on immigration detention (the House increased that amount). The current cost to detain an immigrant is approximately $166 per day at a capacity of 33,400 detention beds. [National Immigration Forum, 8/18/11]
MYTH: In-State Tuition Benefits Are Useless Giveaways Because Undocumented Immigrants Don't Contribute To Economy
FACT: Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes That Help Support Public Education
Houston Chronicle: 1.65 Million Undocumented Texans Paid $1.6 Billion In Property And Sales Taxes This Year. According to the Houston Chronicle:
Yesterday, millions of Americans stuck the stamp on their tax forms, just in the nick of time. This includes $1.6 billion from the estimated 1.65 million illegal immigrants in Texas, according to the Immigration Policy Center. [...]
The estimates are based on income, sales and property taxes, except for states that don't have income tax, such as Texas. The statistics were released to remind legislators and voters that illegal immigrants contribute to the economy, and should keep that in mind when deciding how to deal with illegal immigrants and the porous southern border.
Texas' taxes collected from illegal immigrants:
Property taxes: $177,814,936
Sales tax: $1,429,479,799
[Houston Chronicle, 4/19/11]
Undocumented Immigrants Had A Net Positive Impact Of $17 Billion On Texas Economy In 2005. From a report compiled by the Office of the Comptroller of Texas:
[Texas' Office of the Comptroller, Undocumented Immigrants In Texas, December 2006]
Texas Paid Out $21.63 Million In FY 2010 To Students (Legal Or Not) Who Qualified For In-State Benefits. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board:
Coordinating Board staff estimates that the state GR - direct appropriations from the Texas Legislature - for formula funding provided to institutions for instruction and financial aid distributed to students totaled $21.63 million in FY 2010. The breakdown by each type of general revenue is as follows:
Formula Funding GR*: $12.1 M
Financial Aid GR+: $9.53 M
[Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, October 2011]
- However, Students Who Qualified For In-State Benefits Paid Approximately $32.7 Million In Tuition and Fees In FY 2010, A Net Gain Of $11.07 Million. According to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board: "Institutions of higher education report students who completed an affidavit paid approximately $32.7 million in tuition and fees in Fiscal Year 2010." [Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, October 2011]
Removing The Tuition Benefit Will Have An Estimated "Net Loss Of Almost $92 Million In Tuition In Fiscal Year 2016 Alone." According to Texas immigration attorney Susan Nelson: "A law was proposed in the 2011 legislative session that would have required undocumented students to pay non-resident tuition. The Higher Education Coordinating Board estimated that almost 20,000 students would be affected by the change, and calculated that the state's institutions of higher learning would suffer a net loss of almost $92 million in tuition in fiscal year 2016 alone." [Texas Immigration Lawyer Blog, 9/25/11]
FACT: Beneficiaries Of In-State Tuition Earn More, Contribute More To The Economy
WSJ: "A College Graduate's Lifetime Earnings Are Nearly Double Those Of Someone With Only A High School Diploma." According to the Wall Street Journal:
Most children of illegal immigrants - some 73%, according to the Pew Hispanic Center - are U.S. citizens by birth. But as of 2008 there were 1.5 million children in the U.S. who are illegal. The Supreme Court has ruled that these children are entitled to a K-12 education. Lawmakers in Texas, which is home to the nation's second-largest illegal population after California, determined that tuition breaks for these residents made economic sense. So did the state's business community, which lobbied for the measure on the grounds that a better educated population would translate into stronger economic growth.
State tax officials estimated that increased college enrollment by illegal immigrants would be budget neutral. It would bring in new students who would pay tuition, and those students who graduated would produce increased tax payments to the state. A college graduate's lifetime earnings are nearly double those of someone with only a high school diploma. The Dallas Morning News has reported that in 2009 illegal immigrants who were taking advantage of the tuition subsidy were 1% of the state's million-plus college students. The program is hardly the draw on state coffers that critics have claimed. [Wall Street Journal, 9/27/11, emphasis added]
Greater Economic Contribution Of College Graduates Suggests Long-Term Financial Benefit Of In-State Tuition Laws. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education:
In addition, "they don't consider the long-term benefits of educating someone and the economic contribution college graduates give back to the community" when they buy more goods and pay more taxes, Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, director of the policy institute, said in an interview.
She said more study was needed to substantiate the economic benefits of providing in-state tuition policies, "but from the digging we've done, it appears that there is no cost to states, and there might even be a financial benefit." [Chronicle of Higher Education, 5/18/11]
FACT: Relatively Few Undocumented Immigrants Use In-State Tuition Benefits
During The Fall 2009 Semester "12,138 Students - About 1 Percent Of All Texas College Students - Benefited From The State Law Granting In-State Tuition." According to The Dallas Morning News: "During the fall semester, 12,138 students - about 1 percent of all Texas college students - benefited from the state law granting in-state tuition, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Most of the immigrants among those students are illegal, and some others are not legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens." [Dallas Morning News, 3/15/10]
LA Times: California Reports 41,000 Students - Including Legal Residents -- Took Advantage Of Its In-State Tuition Rule. According to the Los Angeles Times:
The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to California's policy of granting reduced, in-state tuition at its colleges and universities to graduates of its high schools who are illegal immigrants.
The justices turned down an appeal from lawyers for a conservative immigration-law group that contended "preferential treatment" for illegal immigrants violated federal immigration law. They cited a little-known provision in a 1986 law that barred 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."
But last year, in the first ruling of its kind, the California Supreme Court said the state's policy did not conflict with federal law because the tuition benefit turned on a student's high school graduation, not his or her residency. In the 2001 law, the state said it would give in-state tuition to a qualified student who attended a high school in California for three years and graduated.
Under this interpretation, a student from Oregon who graduates from a high school in California could obtain in-state tuition in the University of California system. In defense of its law, California education officials said that many of those who took advantage of its in-state tuition policy were U.S. citizens who hailed from other states.
Overall, the state said about 41,000 students last year took advantage of this special tuition rule, but the vast majority of those were students at a community college. In 2009, the 10-campus UC system said 2,019 students paid in-state tuition under the terms of the state law. Of these, about 600 were believed to be illegal immigrants. [Los Angeles Times, 6/6/11]
The State Of California Put The Number Of Undocumented Students Who Pay In-State Tuition At 6,500. According to Reuters:
The 2001 law provides that any student who attends a California high school for three years and graduates can get in-state college and university tuition. Illegal immigrants who qualify must swear they will seek to become U.S. citizens.
Nine other states, including New York, Texas and Illinois, have adopted similar laws. Opponents said California unlawfully discriminated against U.S. citizens in favor of illegal immigrants and said the case involved a question of great national importance.
Attorneys for the students who pay higher out-of-state rates said about 25,000 illegal immigrants receive the tuition breaks every year. The state put the number at 6,500 students. [Reuters, 6/6/11, emphasis added]