Financial Aid for Illegal Immigrant Students: An American's Dream Deferred
Did You Know...
Millions of parents worry about their ability to
fulfill the dream of a college education
for their children?
Millions of parents wake up each morning with a lingering worry that they will be unable to fulfill the dream they have for their children to get a college education. And each morning newly-graduated young adults awake with worry about their sometimes-crushing student debt obligations.
In an age when some lower- and middle-income students have to defer their dreams of college due to rising tuition prices, or the simple cost of attending college, is it fair to spend scarce resources on giving illegal immigrants financial assistance?
The Rising Cost of Education
For the 2018-2019 school year, the average in-state tuition in a public four-year college was $10,230, while out-of-state students paid $26,290, according to the College Board's trends in higher education.
Those costs will continue to rise if history is any guide. Over the last decade, the average published tuition and fee prices rose by $2,670 at public four-year institutions, and by $7,390 at private nonprofit four-year colleges and universities.
It is an even steeper financial hill to climb for disadvantaged students and military veterans. Although giving a quality education to every young person remains a goal, the policy of financial aid to illegal immigrants raises several questions:
- In practice, states are incentivizing illegal immigration at the same time they are compelling taxpayer parents to subsidize the education of illegal immigrants.
- Is it fair to give financial assistance to foreign students when struggling American families are in need?
- Furthermore, with limited resources, is it a fiscally prudent decision to give in-state or free college tuition to illegal immigrants?
- With 44 million student borrowers owing a total of $1.56 trillion in student loan debts, how can colleges justify hiking tuition and funding scholarships for illegal immigrants?
State-provided financial aid is a critical means by which middle-class families can afford higher education. Providing a significant slice of state financial aid to illegal immigrants simply undermines the goal of giving every American am opportunity to learn.
Illegal immigrant students cannot legally receive any federally funded student financial aid, including loans, grants, scholarships or work-study money. In most states, they are not eligible for state financial aid. Illegal immigrant students are ineligible for federal financial aid, but individual states and colleges, however, can distribute separate financial aid packages to whichever students they wish. This year, for example, New Mexico opted to spend $25 million on a need-based scholarship fund, while Utah created the state’s first need-based scholarship program which allows schools to give to any student, no matter their immigration status. Colorado, Illinois, and New York also expanded access to state financial aid to illegal immigrant students. California and Texas already offer state financial aid to alien students.
In California, there were 200,150 DACA beneficiaries as of August 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute – many of those students received some kind of financial assistance when it came to their education. State law (AB 540, AB 130, and AB 131) provides undocumented students with in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid. There are 23 campus options for the California State University system and nine campus options of the University of California (UC). (The average cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,680.)
The state offers in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students through SB 582. The state also has one of the lowest costs when it comes to in-state tuition and fees. (The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,920.)
Back in April 2013, Oregon adopted a state policy, HB 2787, granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. This has opened up countless opportunities for many who are pursuing college. (The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $10,360.)
As a result of the passage of the MN Dream Act, more than two dozen colleges and universities offer in-state tuition to all students, regardless of status. (The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $11,300.)
In 2001, Texas became the first in the nation to allow in-state tuition to be accessed by illegal immigrant students so they can attend public universities. The one requirement was the student had to have lived in Texas for the three years before graduating from high school. The state with one of the largest immigrant and illegal immigrant populations also permits all students to qualify for Texas State Financial Aid. (The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,840.)
Already offering in-state tuition to students without legal status since 2003, the state opened the school door wider in 2014 with the passage of Washington State DREAM Act, which gives access to state financial aid to all students. (The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,480.)
After many years of trying and failing, immigration rights activists successfully lobbied the state legislature and, in 2018, Gov. Phil Murphy signed bill NJ S 699 (18R) which permits spending state financial aid dollars on illegal immigrant students. (The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $13,870.)
However, of the approximately 15 states currently offering tuition-free programs, there are a small group which allow illegal immigrants to participate, but the number is growing.
Tennessee and Nevada do not, but this year Maryland is starting its Promise Scholarship program, and New York passed the equivalent of the DREAM Act in January to extend state aid to illegal immigrants. California, Colorado, Delaware, Oregon, Rhode Island and Washington are the other states which offer financial aid and grants or scholarships to illegal immigrant students.
In June 2019, the state of Illinois enacted the RISE Act (Public Act 101-0021), which permits Illinois public universities to award illegal immigrants financial aid.
The Legal Question
Under U.S. law, all students are guaranteed public education from kindergarten through 12th grade. From high school on, illegal immigrants do not qualify for federal student aid or other federal grants that citizens or documented residents can apply for and receive.
In addition to taking out loans themselves, illegal immigrants have access to scholarships set aside explicitly for them.
However, Heritage Foundation immigration scholars Hans A. von Spakovsky and Caleb Morrison argue that providing in-state tuition rates to illegal aliens actually is prohibited under federal law.
In 2007, the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals dismissed a case brought by FAIR and 24 out-of-state students. The plaintiffs sued the Kansas Board of Regents and Gov. Kathleen Sebelius claiming they were denied the same benefits that were offered to illegal students. The state was ultimately able to show that the benefits were offered to any student who qualified under state residency parameters.
In 2010, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously to uphold the in-state tuition policy for illegal immigrants on similar grounds of state residency, not U.S. residency.
The state tuition policies have also remained intact because the federal government will always be hard-pressed to enforce a law that dictates how states spend their resources, like state education dollars.
"No Republican or Democratic administration has tried to enforce that provision since it passed in 1996 because there's a huge federalism problem," immigration lawyer William Stock advised. Even the Trump administration, with its tougher immigration policies, would struggle with enforcement.