Wednesday, October 01, 2008

AB 540 disputed in court ruling

This is a story I wrote about the AB 540 court ruling that went down a few weeks ago. From my college news paper.  

California court decision could change AB 540

Students attending California State Universities and community colleges under Assembly Bill 540 are in danger of losing their eligibility to qualify to pay for in-state tuition. 

A California court of appeals ruled on September 15 that AB 540 conflicts with federal laws stating that eligibility for in-state tuition is based on residency.

Nicholas Espiritu, a staff attorney at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund says that when AB 540 was first introduced in 1996, it met all of the federal requirements it needed and was specific in its writing so it wouldn’t be questioned in the future. 

Despite the court ruling, AB 540 is still in effect and students need not to panic or worry says Espiritu. 

Kris Kobach, an attorney for the plaintiffs and a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle saying, “It has a huge impact.

“This is going to bring a halt to the law that has been giving in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.”

The current case against the bill was first filed in 2005 and only after years of legal limbo has it finally come to a decision.     

The ruling made is also going to be appealed by the University of California Regents, which will continue prolonging the legal process which could take another three years or longer.  

The UC Regents will fight and defend AB 540 because they know how important this bill is to thousands of students attending universities and community colleges says Espiritu. 

There are nine other states in the United States that have similar laws that allow undocumented students the ability to qualify for in-state tuition; Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Students who attended and graduated from a California high school or continuation school and received a diploma, can qualify to pay in-state tuition rather than out- of-state fees. 

Residents pay $20 a unit, while out-of-state residents pay $173 a unit at East. 

The difference escalates dramatically at the University level.

At the University of California, Los Angeles –one of the most popular schools in California their in-state tuition fees are $7,034 while out-of-state tuition is $26,102. 

AB 540 was drafted to help out California residents who attended and graduated from a California high school, but moved and lived in another state for an extended period of time.

As a result of living out of state for more than one year, those students don’t qualify as in-state residents.

The National Immigration Law Center says that, “about 70 percent of AB 540 students attending the University of California are U.S. citizens who do not meet the state residency requirements for in-state tuition purposes,” in a press release following the court ruling. 

It also means that undocumented students who also meet the requirements could also attend universities and colleges, but without any financial assistance from the government or certain scholarships.   

All they have to do is sign an affidavit with the school they’re attending stating that they are in the process of becoming legal residents, or will apply as soon as they are able to.  

Aurea Gomez is a Chemical Engineering major at the University of Santa Barbara. 

Like other AB 540 students, she has to struggle to pay for her education and maintain a home, “I cannot consider buying books,” says Gomez. 

“I have to borrow from class mates, use the library and sometimes ask for help from every single professor. 

“I need to work every quarter, which is a burden on my studies, especially in a major where students only focus on classes and do little or no work. 

“There are tons of little things that have to do with everyday life that are put on hold, but I do it because I believe in my education. 

“I believe in the right to access it,” says Gomez. 

“Being a first generation student, it’s hard to inspire my six younger siblings to acquire their four-year degree, but one of my sisters has told me repeatedly about her dream and determination to become a doctor. 

“As an AB 540 student finally making it through to my last year, I have been inspiring her to continue, but if AB 540 is made invalid, the cost doubles and her will and drive will not be enough,” says Gomez.