UC regents OK tuition break for immigrants

By Simon Avery, The Associated Press
Friday January 18, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Illegal immigrants and other students who qualify will get a big break in University of California tuition under a plan approved Thursday that will allow them to pay the same amount as California residents. 

After an emotional hearing, the UC Board of Regents voted 17-5 to approve the proposal at the close of its two-day meeting at UCLA. 

The move came only a few months after Gov. Gray Davis and the Legislature approved a bill implementing a similar tuition plan at California State University and community college campuses. 

That created a dilemma for the UC system, which had to weigh financial, legal and moral considerations in joining the initiative. 

“Talk what you will about their status, the reality is industries could not survive without the backbreaking work these people and their parents do,” said California Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, a member of the board. 

Other regents said the move was a mistake. 

“We’ve got to take care of Americans first,” said David S. Lee. “Now we’re telling the whole world just come in illegally and we will give you a good education. I don’t understand that.” 

To qualify for what amounts to an $11,000 annual tuition subsidy, students must graduate from a California high school after three years of attendance. In addition, illegal immigrants must prove they are in the process of seeking legalized residency status. 

Several hundred students already enrolled at UC campuses will get the subsidy, which reduces their tuition from $14,933 to $3,859 a year. It also opens the way for an unknown number of students to apply for an education they previously could not afford. 

The board estimated the initial cost of the change at $2 million to $4 million at a time when the tight state budget will likely limit raises for faculty and staff members and could lead to tuition increases to fund more competitive salaries. 

During their 30-minute discussion, the regents addressed a variety of issues. A key point was whether the policy will violate a federal rule forbidding in-state tuition for illegal immigrants unless the same fees apply to U.S. citizens in any state. 

“I do think we will be sued,” said regent Joanne Corday Kozberg, who nevertheless voted for the measure. 

During a public comment session earlier in the day, America Yareli Hernandez, an 18-year-old student at Fresno State, told regents she wants to transfer to a UC campus but can’t afford the expensive tuition. 

She said her parents brought her to California from Mexico when she was three months old. Since family members are still classified as temporary residents, she would have to pay out-of-state fees at UC without the new policy. 

“I feel I should have equal opportunity because I have been here all my life,” she said outside the meeting. “It’s not my fault. I didn’t make a conscious effort to arrive illegally.” 

On Wednesday, 300 students staged a boisterous demonstration in favor of the move. 

Waving signs reading “Knowledge not discrimination” and “Education is a human right,” they rallied for an hour outside the building where the regents met. 

Also on Thursday, the board approved an environmental report and master development plan for the new UC Merced campus. 

Groundbreaking is scheduled for May for the first three academic buildings, as the campus readies to receive its first 1,000 students in fall 2004. The cost of that first phase of construction is $225 million. 

UC officials said building the system’s 10th campus — its first since the 1960s — has only begun and could take decades to complete. 

“This is really just an early step in many steps that will have to be taken,” UC President Richard C. Atkinson said.