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This law would save students tuition money, but the DOJ refuses to enforce it

Declined to comment on why it will not enforce a 24-year-old law

The Department of Justice refuses to enforce a Clinton-era law that could deliver tuition saving for parents and students and potentially save them tens of thousands of dollars per year.

The “Illegal Immigration Reform and Responsibility Act of 1996” mandated that states offer out-of-state U.S. citizens the same tuition rate given to in-state students, if that state grants illegal immigrants in-state tuition.

The College Fix repeatedly asked the DOJ for comment on the non-enforcement of the law, which according to a former Justice Department attorney has never been enforced.

The Department of Justice said it “does not have a comment,” according to an email from Alexa Vance, a department spokesperson.

Vance did not respond to a follow-up email asking if the DOJ had any plans to look into the enforcement of the issue and if there was a specific directive not to pursue the enforcement of the law.

A report from George Washington University found a variety of gaps between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates at public universities, using data from 2013.

For example, students in the University of Maryland system can face a gap of up to $20,000 per year if they are an out-of-state student. Maryland is one of the states that offer in-state rates to illegal immigrants.

A former Department of Justice career attorney, Hans von Spakovsky, who is now a legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation, previously told The Fix why it is important that the government enforce this law.

“If the DOJ actually enforced the law those states would lose, they’d be forced to either stop providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants or get rid of increased tuition for U.S. citizens,” von Spakovsky said.

“The problem is that while the statute has been on the books for many years, and a number of states have violated it, the DOJ has never acted to enforce the law.”

The statute states:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.

As von Spakovsky told The Fix, it’s a simple process for the DOJ to enforce the law.

“The Attorney General of the US needs to tell the head of the Civil Division to enforce the statute,” von Spakovsky said.

This would simply require that attorneys in the civil division of the department file lawsuits against states that offer the in-state tuition rates, the Heritage Foundation fellow said.

As previously noted by The Fix, 19 states currently offer in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants.

Those states are: Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Washington, Minnesota, Texas, Utah, Rhode Island, and Oklahoma, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

MORE: New York State legislation permits college financial aid for illegal immigrants

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.