Judge Sean Jordan of the Eastern District Court of Texas claimed it was unconstitutional to charge different tuition rates under a 1996 federal immigration law.
In his decision from July 15, Jordan wrote that the law clearly states, “If a State makes an unlawfully present alien eligible for a postsecondary education benefit on the basis of state residency, it must make a United States citizen eligible for the same benefit regardless of whether the citizen is such a resident.”
However, a 2001 Texas law allows some illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition if they meet certain residency and education requirements.
Under this law, along with Jordan’s decision, all Texas public universities may be barred from charging out-of-state students higher rates as long as the 2001 statute is in place. This ruling also calls into question the constitutionality of that law altogether.
According to the judge, the 1996 federal law preempts the 2001 Texas law under the supremacy clause, a finding that the Fifth Circuit agreed with.
In their appeal, UNT attorneys claim that the impacts of this decision on the research and educational capabilities of the university are significant, now and in the future. “The injunction is already having substantial, irreversible financial impacts,” the attorneys wrote. “UNT has projected it will lose approximately $5.7 million annually based on the number of currently enrolled out-of-state U.S. citizens.”
According to the UNT website, the average cost of attendance for in-state students is approximately $26,000 per year. For out-of-state students, that cost jumps almost 50 percent to around $38,000.
Without the funds generated from out-of-state tuition, the school says it will go from a surplus in funding to a deficit. Leadership claims this will force the school to limit class sizes, cut research budgets, and issue staff layoffs. Given the implications of this ruling, other public Texas universities may have to follow suit.
The plaintiffs, student organization Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT), tout this ruling as a major win for their organization and Texas at large. This may prompt the Texas legislature to address this apparent inconsistency between federal and state laws, in order to continue charging out-of-state residents higher tuition.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a conservative think tank, is representing YCT in the case.
When asked for comment regarding the case, TPPF Litigation Director Chance Weldon said, “The district court looked at the plain text of the federal statute, and found that our client should prevail.”
“The reason this case is interesting comes less from the statutory claims that are at the heart of the merits, but from the aggressive procedural claims made by UNT,” he continued. “At the Fifth Circuit and below, what UNT has argued is that even though this law is preempted and unlawful, they cannot comply with federal law because of their budget. We believe that position is an extremely radical one.”
Asked about the implications of this ruling on other public Texas universities’ tuition schemes, Weldon surmised that “under the 2001 Texas law, universities must continue to provide the same tuition to unlawful aliens as in-state residents. What they may not do is charge American citizens more than this rate.”
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Hudson Callender is a reporter for The Texan and a lifelong resident of San Antonio, Texas. Hudson recently graduated cum laude from Trinity University with majors in Economics and Political Science, and loves to study ancient history. Hudson is also an avid mountaineer, backpacker, and paddler, often leading trips to remote wilderness areas. Outside of his love for nature, history, and Lone Star beer, Hudson spends his weekends arguing with his friends about football, and will always stick up for the Baylor Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and San Antonio Spurs.