In-state tuition fight may head to high court

Controversial state law allows lower rate for some illegal immigrants

? The fight over in-state tuition in Kansas for the children of some illegal immigrants may be headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kris Kobach, an attorney representing the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said the plaintiffs are planning to ask the Supreme Court to rule on the question of whether they have the legal standing to challenge the law.

“We are still embroiled in legal wrangling on threshold issues,” said Kobach, who also is chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.

This month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied a request to rehear a challenge of the state law, which was enacted in 2004.

That ruling supported earlier decisions by a three-judge panel of the court and a district court judge.

The law allows some illegal immigrants to pay the same lower tuition rates as legal Kansans at state universities, community colleges and vocational schools. The student must have lived in Kansas at least three years, graduated from a Kansas high school, and seek or promise to seek legal status.

In Kansas, 243 students are receiving the in-state tuition under the law, according to the Kansas Board of Regents. Most of those – 193 – are attending community colleges; 46 are at state universities, including 11 at Kansas University; three are at technical schools, and one is at a technical college.

The plaintiffs, who were all classified as out-of-state students and had to pay the higher tuition to attend Kansas schools, argued that the law violated their constitutional rights of equal protection by granting illegal immigrants a benefit that they couldn’t receive.

But the appellate panel said that the plaintiffs couldn’t show that they would have benefited even if the law was struck down.

Ten states, including Kansas, have in-state tuition laws, and national groups have said a court ruling in this case could affect those laws in other states.

Supporters of these laws say they’re intended to help children of immigrants who were brought to the United States and have worked hard in high school but then are unable to go to college if they have to pay the more expensive out-of-state tuition rate. And they say the nation is going to need a better-educated work force.

Numerous attempts have been made to repeal the law in the Legislature, but they have all come up short. Some key legislators have vowed to try again to repeal the law when the Legislature starts its 2008 session next month.

Meanwhile, the state paid an outside law firm $163,856 to defend the law, according to Ashley Anstaett, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office. Anstaett said those payments were made during the previous administration to the law firm of Spencer Fane Britt and Browne of Kansas City, Mo.