Appeals court hears case over undocumented students receiving in-state tuition

An appeals court heard a case brought by the Young Conservatives of Texas against the University of North Texas challenging a law that allows undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

UNT said that a lower court ruling, which would effectively close the gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition, ‘will cost it millions of dollars in revenue that it collects from out-of-state residents.’

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently heard arguments for a lawsuit against a Texas university that charged out-of-state residents higher tuition while undocumented students paid in-state tuition. 

The lawsuitYoung Conservatives of Texas Foundation v. the University of North Texas, alleges that a federal law–Section 1623(a) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act–prevents UNT from providing benefits to undocumented students that are withheld from U.S. citizens. 

The Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) argues that the federal law makes the Texas law permitting in-state tuition for undocumented students unconstitutional. 

“Federal law provides that all citizens must have access to at least the same level of educational benefits as such aliens,” the lawsuit reads. 

“Because this state’s statute directly conflicts with federal law, it is preempted by, and thus unconstitutional under, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution.”

[RELATED: New Mexico is paying college tuition for illegal immigrants with COVID relief funds]

When the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) announced its representation of the plaintiffs in November 2020, YCT State Chairman William Dominguez said in a press release that the “lawsuit is about ensuring the sanctity of the rule of law regarding the cost of higher education in the state of Texas.”

“The Young Conservatives of Texas believe that at the heart of this discrepancy is the issue of fairness and that American citizens who reside out of state should have access to equal educational and financial benefits,” Dominguez continued. 

A U.S. District Court had sided with YCT, according to Reuters, and Judge Sean D. Jordan wrote that UNT improperly used case law. 

“UNT points to Martinez, a decision in which the California Supreme Court concluded that California’s in-state tuition scheme was not preempted by Section 1623 because it did not turn on residence,” Jordan’s ruling argued. 

“By contrast, none of that is true for the Texas statute at issue here.”

In November 2022, Arizona joined California and the 21 other states that provide tuition assistance to undocumented students. A supporter of the proposition said that changing the Arizona Constitution would “treat immigrants brought to the United States as children with dignity and humanity.”

Melanie Plowman, an attorney with the firm representing UNT, told Campus Reform that “[t]he basis for UNT’s tuition rates is found in the tuition provisions of the Texas Education Code.”

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Bakersfield College funneled nearly $200k to undocumented student programs]

UNT said that the District Court ruling, which effectively closes the gap between in-state and out-of-state tuition, “will cost it millions of dollars in revenue that it collects from out-of-state residents” who pay approximately $12,000 more annually, according to Reuters.

When UNT made a similar argument in front of Judge Jordan, he suggested that this is not the Court’s problem. 

“But wait, says UNT, an injunction preventing it from unlawfully charging students nonresident tuition will force it to incur millions of dollars in lost revenue each semester,” Jordan wrote. 

“Budgetary constraints do not absolve constitutional violations.”

Campus Reform contacted all relevant parties listed for comment and will update this article accordingly.