Lawsuit alleges UC not permitted to give aid, in-state status to undocumented students

The conservative group Judicial Watch Inc. filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that the University of California is prohibited by federal law from giving in-state tuition and grants to undocumented students.

Filed on behalf of Earl De Vries, a Republican candidate for the state senate in 2010, the lawsuit claims that pursuant to U.S. code, undocumented immigrants can’t receive local grants or aid — such as in-state tuition — without the state granting them eligibility.

“Taxpaying California citizens deserve to have their hard-earned money spent lawfully,” De Vries said in a press release. “What the state is doing is not only illegal, it’s unfair to taxpayers.”

The state did grant some eligibility for such benefits to undocumented individuals through bill AB 540, passed in 2001, and the state DREAM Act.

AB 540, which applies to California State University and community colleges, allows students who attend a California high school for three or more years and graduate — which could include undocumented individuals — to pay in-state tuition. The DREAM Act allows these same students to receive state financial aid.

As the UC system is an independent body governed by the UC Board of Regents, these laws could not directly apply to the university. However, according to the text of AB 540, they can be applied to the UC system if the regents adopt the policies.

The Board of Regents voluntarily adopted these policies, according to UC spokesperson Dianne Klein.

However, Judicial Watch’s lawsuit alleges that the Board of Regents, because it is not a state government, does not under federal law have the power to accept these laws and thus “grant” eligibility.

Klein said the university is confident that its policies are consistent with federal law.

AB 540 does not primarily apply to undocumented students, with mostly U.S. citizens and legal residents using it to apply for the tuition reduction, Klein said. An estimated $19.6 million of in-state tuition exemptions and $4.3 million of UC grants and scholarships annually go to about 900 undocumented immigrants in the UC system, the lawsuit said.

Daniel Tutt is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @danielgtutt.

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