(CN) - The California Supreme Court on Monday unanimously upheld a state law allowing some illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition rates at California universities. The ruling reverses a lower court's finding that the law "thwarts the will of Congress."
The high court's Justice Ming Chin wrote that the state's tuition exemption, mandated by the state's education code, is not preempted by federal immigration law and will only apply to students who attend California high schools for at least three years and graduate.
Chin said the high court "received many briefs making policy arguments for and against" the tuition exemption. Some argued that the tuition exemption "affords deserving students educational opportunities that would not otherwise be available," while others said "it flouts the will of Congress, wastes taxpayers' money, and encourages illegal immigration," according to the ruling.
"But this court does not make policy," Chin wrote. "Whether Congress's prohibition or the Legislature's exemption is good policy is not for us to say. Rather, we must decide the legal question of whether California's exemption violates Congress's prohibition or is otherwise invalid."
In reaching its ruling, the high court determined that because some non-resident students are eligible for in-state tuition because they attended a California high school for three years, that same eligibility should be applied to illegal immigrants who meet the same criteria.
"Because the exemption is given to all who have attended high school in California for at least three years (and meet the other requirements), and not all who have done so qualify as California residents for purposes of in-state tuition, and further because not all unlawful aliens who would qualify as residents but for their unlawful status are eligible for the exemption, we conclude the exemption is not based on residence in California," Chin wrote.