If a state lets illegal aliens pay in-state tuition for attendance to public universities, then they must also let all American citizens, whether in-state or not, receive the same benefit, according to the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996.”
The Clinton-era law states:
“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”
According to an attorney who formerly worked at the Department of Justice, the government has not been carrying out the provision.
Heritage Foundation senior legal fellow Hans von Spakovsky says that Trump can uphold this law.
“If the DOJ actually enforced the law those states would lose, they’d be forced to either stop providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants or get rid of increased tuition for U.S. citizens,” von Spakovsky said.
The numbers concerning tuition for illegal immigrants are staggering: 19 states offer aliens the in-state discount that can range from $10,000 to $30,000.
When the statute was challenged in 2007, a federal judge ruled that students could not sue states or universities for not providing in-state tuition to out-of-state students when they provided it for non-U.S. citizens.
Moreover, universities have attempted to get around the law by saying that they won’t check a student’s citizenship and will merely require that the applicant be a resident of the state for a certain amount of time.
But since “it just says you have to provide in-state tuition to all U.S. citizens” if you provide in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, this strategy is not viable.
“It’s unfair that citizens have to pay out of state tuition when illegal immigrants do not,” von Spakovsky said.
If Trump directs the Department of Justice to acknowledge and administer the provision, then it could mean massive tuition breaks for many students.