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Posted at 05:39 PM ET, 08/18/2011

Montgomery College immigrant tuition challenge dismissed by judge


Montgomery College. (Jeffrey Porter/For The Washington Post)
A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit that had challenged Montgomery College for its practice of charging lower resident tuition rates to illegal immigrants who graduate from local high schools.

The lawsuit arose from antipathy toward the Montgomery College policy, which put it essentially alone among Maryland and Virginia colleges in allowing illegal immigrants to reap resident tuition discounts. It was filed by conservative watchdog Judicial Watch.

A decision by Montgomery County Circuit Judge Marielsa Bernard dismissed the suit with prejudice, according to a statement from the college, meaning that plaintiffs cannot amend and re-file the action.

Bernard wrote that it is improper for private citizens to bring this action, essentially because tuition rates are a matter of financial aid and, as such, entrusted to the Maryland Higher Education Commission:

Montgomery College has a long-standing policy of granting tuition breaks to illegal immigrants if they are recent graduates of the county public school system. Tuition for county residents is about one-third that charged to non-Marylanders.

Last winter, the college and its rule were drawn into the national immigration debate. State Del. Patrick McDonough, a Baltimore County Republican, asked state prosecutors to investigate whether the policy was illegal.

Stephen Z. Kaufman, chairman of the college’s governing board, said in a statement that the goal of the policy is to provide “the lowest tuition rate to Montgomery County high school graduates” as a way to make college more affordable. “This policy helps the College leverage the county’s investment in K-12 public education because  higher education advances both the individual and the broader community,” he said.

It is an unusual policy. I am not aware of another college in Maryland or Virginia that allows illegal immigrants to pay resident tuition. Some Virginia public universities do not even allow illegal immigrants to enroll. The two states are pursuing opposite paths, with Virginia lawmakers perennially seeking to bar illegal immigrants from colleges and Maryland lawmakers seeking resident tuition benefits for the same group.

Maryland’s legislature finally passed such a law this year. But a successful petition drive by opponents sent it back to voters as a referendum. Maryland’s version of the “DREAM Act” is on hold pending that vote.

The Maryland law bucks the national trend . At least three states, Arizona, Colorado and Georgia, have moved to deny in-state tuition to illegal immigrants since 2006. At least 10 states, including California and Texas, have laws that grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, but several repeal efforts are underway.

By  |  05:39 PM ET, 08/18/2011

Categories:  Access, Aid, Community Colleges, Litigation, Public policy

 
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