Court Rules Undocumented Students Can Pay In-State Tuition. Great, But a Job?

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Waiting tables, Ben. Waiting tables. Wave of the future.
The California Supreme Court upheld a law yesterday that allows illegal immigrants who've attended California high schools for at least three years to pay in-state tuition at the state's public universities. Well, that's great news for them. Except they still can't get a legal job after graduating.

The law, known as AB 540, had been challenged by a group of out-of-state Americans who claimed that illegal immigrants were being given preferential treatment over American citizens from other states. They were represented by Kris Kobach, the Kansas attorney general who co-wrote Arizona's "papers please" law, SB 1040. Yet the state Supreme Court basically told the plaintiffs to stop whining; the law is constitutional since it bases in-state tuition eligibility on years in a California high school, not a student's citizenship status. 

That's reassuring news for the hundreds of likely undocumented students currently enrolled in the University of California and California State University systems. In the Chron's story today, U.C. President Mark Yudof said, "Their accomplishments should not be disregarded or their futures jeopardized."

No, the job of jeopardizing their futures currently falls to the federal government. Congress voted against taking up debate on the DREAM Act earlier this fall. The DREAM Act would have given a path to citizenship to undocumented immigrants who came to the country before they were 16, and completed two years of university or a hitch in the military.

Until Congress moves on the bill, there will be a growing pool of psych, architecture, and biology majors with nothing to do but grab the same under-the-table gigs they had gone to school to escape. We wrote a cover story on this issue, interviewing young people still waiting tables at burger joints after graduating San Francisco State, or simply biding time by continuing to go to grad school with the hope the bill will someday pass.

In-state tuition may make college economically feasible for the mostly low-income students. Yet until the greater immigration question is solved, attending school is still a leap of faith. 

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