SACRAMENTO – Today the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Assembly Bill 540 which allows students who attend at least three years of high school in California and who graduate from a California high school (or receive their GED) to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities, regardless of their immigration status. The Court found that federal law did not bar California from offering in-state tuition to all students who meet these requirements.

“The California Supreme Court today upheld AB 540, which permits students to pay in-state tuition rates if they attended California high schools for at least three years and graduated from a California high school,” said Hector Villagra, ACLU/SC legal director. “ It was challenged by anti-immigrant groups who said that it provided educational benefits to undocumented immigrants on the basis of residence, in violation of federal law.”

State lawmakers recognized that it is in the best interest of the state to encourage all California high school graduates, including undocumented students, to pursue higher education. Today the Court upheld these principles.

When AB 540 was enacted in October of 2001, it was the second such provision to become law. Since then, eight other states have enacted similar laws, including Utah, New York, Oklahoma, Washington, Kansas, Illinois, New Mexico, and Nebraska.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Martinez vs. Regents of the University of California. The ACLU and the National Immigration Law Center were counsel for the amici, which also included the ACLU of Northern California, ACLU of Southern California, ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties and the Orange County Dream Team.

“By upholding AB 540 the court has ensured that California’s colleges and universities remain a viable option for California students, many of whom are likely to remain in state after receiving their degrees. I am happy that the Court has decided that these students should be granted the same opportunity to obtain an affordable education as their classmates,” said Lucero Chavez, an immigrant rights attorney with the ACLU/SC.