SACRAMENTO -- A group of out-of-state college students sued to challenge a law that lets some classmates who are undocumented immigrants pay the lower in-state rate if they graduated from California high schools.
The class-action lawsuit said the policy violates a federal law barring states from offering benefits to undocumented immigrants that are not available to US citizens. The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Yolo County by 42 plaintiffs seeks unspecified damages.
The difference in fees can amount to many thousands of dollars a year. For example, out-of-state students pay nearly $24,000 a year to attend the University of California, about $17,000 more than California residents.
The 2002 law allows the in-state rates for students who attended a California high school for at least three years, graduated from one, and sign an affidavit declaring that they will seek to become legal residents as soon as it is feasible.
California is one of nine states with laws that let undocumented students qualify for in-state rates. A lawsuit filed in federal court in Kansas challenging that state's law was dismissed, but is being appealed.
California's largest public universities said they believe they are complying with federal and state laws.
About 70 percent of the University of California students who benefit from the law are US citizens in unique circumstances, such as those who attended boarding school in California despite having a legal address in another state, said University of California spokeswoman Ravi Poorsina.
She said 1,339 of the system's roughly 208,000 students received the tuition break in 2004-05.
''When we adopted the policy, it really had nothing to do with illegal immigrants. We were conforming the university's policies with state law," she said.