Taxpayers Subsidizing College for Illegal Aliens


Efforts are under way in several states to allow illegal aliens to pay steeply discounted in-state tuition at public colleges and universities—rates not available to American citizens from other states. As state universities across the country increasingly limit enrollment, increasing the intake of illegal aliens into these schools will mean fewer opportunities and less aid for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

States that offer in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens are actively working against the federal government’s effort to combat illegal immigration, harming citizens and legal immigrants, and opening themselves up to substantial costs and criminal liability.

Virginia's Attorney General studied the issue of in-state tuition for illegal alien students and came to the conclusion that the expenditure of state resources for that purpose is illegal.

Competition for Scarce Resources

State universities across the country are increasingly limiting enrollment; increasing the intake of illegal aliens into these schools will necessarily deny opportunities to U.S. citizens and legal residents.

With the cost of a college education skyrocketing, slots at state-subsidized universities are becoming the only hope of a higher education for many American families. With a finite number of seats and amount of aid available, when public universities admit an illegal immigrant and provide subsidized tuition, some other student who is also deserving is denied an opportunity. Admitting and subsidizing illegal aliens, in effect, punishes citizens and legal residents who have done nothing wrong themselves.

Expensive Burden on Taxpayers

Post-secondary public education is heavily subsidized by state taxpayers. It is unlikely that a majority of a state’s taxpayers would approve having their tax dollars spent on educating illegal aliens, if they were asked to approve such a policy.

Before California’s current in-state tuition law was passed, a previous one was vetoed by the state’s governor on the basis that it would impose an unmanageable financial burden on the state’s higher education system. “Based on Fall 1998 enrollment figures at the [U. of Cal. and Cal. State U.] alone, this legislation could result in a revenue loss of over $63.7 million to the state,” according to the governor in 2000.1

States that give in-state tuition to illegal aliens:

California, New York, Texas, and Utah

It’s Illegal

Not only is giving in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens expensive, it’s illegal. When Virginia’s Attorney General studied the issue of in-state tuition for illegal alien students, he came to the conclusion that the expenditure of state resources for that purpose is illegal. This conclusion is based in part on the immigration reform act of 1996, which specified: “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 amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”2

The existence of the Section 505 provision clearly puts states that provide illegal aliens in-state tuition rates at risk. It opens them up to lawsuits challenging the conferral of in-state tuition on illegal aliens if it is not similarly made available to U.S. citizens and legal residents from elsewhere in the country.

Promoting Illegal Immigration

State policies that offer the benefit of in-state tuition to illegal aliens are likely to attract illegal alien families to move to those states. Because of the costs of illegal immigration, the citizens of those states may rightly protest that such a policy is contrary to the best interests of the citizens of that state.

Unfair and Illogical

If aliens are illegally residing in the United States, they cannot be legal residents of the state in which they are applying for admission to a state university. Furthermore, illegal aliens may not legally hold a job in the United States. Therefore, it makes no sense to expend tax dollars on their higher education, rather than on students who can legally work here.

Apologists for illegal immigration claim that illegal aliens do work that Americans will not do. But their argument for in-state tuition is that these illegal aliens should not be forced by lack of education to do unskilled work. Which is it?

During Illinois’ debate over in-state tuition for illegal aliens, the Chicago Tribune editorialized on the idea’s unfairness: “First, it makes cities and states usurpers of the prerogative granted by the Constitution to Congress 'to establish an [sic] uniform Rule of Naturalization . . . .’ In other words, it’s Congress that decides who becomes a citizen and how, and it is not for any other unit of government—federal, state, or local—to modify it or set it aside. Second, it deprives citizens—of the nation and the states—of what they have a reasonable right to expect: that all the activities of their various governments will be conducted within a framework of law, the most basic element of which is a definition of citizenship and its rights and responsibilities.”3



[1] Governor’s Veto Message to the Assembly on AB 1197, September 29, 2000.

[2] Section 505 of the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRAIRA) (PL 104-208; 110 Stat 3009-672; 8 U.S.C. 1623). Referring to this provision, House conference Report 104-828 reads “this section provides that illegal aliens are not eligible for in-state tuition rates at public institutions of higher education.”

[3] Chicago Tribune, March 31, 2003.

Updated 5/03