WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to a California law that gives illegal immigrants the same in-state college tuition rates as legal state residents, another contentious issue in the nation's immigration policy debate.
The justices refused to hear an appeal by group of out-of-state U.S. citizens after the California Supreme Court unanimously upheld the law and dismissed their lawsuit.
The 2001 law provides that any student who attends a California high school for three years and graduates can get in-state college and university tuition. Illegal immigrants who qualify must swear they will seek to become U.S. citizens.
Nine other states, including New York, Texas and Illinois, have adopted similar laws. Opponents said California unlawfully discriminated against U.S. citizens in favor of illegal immigrants and said the case involved a question of great national importance.
Attorneys for the students who pay higher out-of-state rates said about 25,000 illegal immigrants receive the tuition breaks every year. The state put the number at 6,500 students.
California, which faces a worsening budget crisis, spends more than $200 million each year subsidizing the tuition of illegal immigrants, attorneys for the out-of-state students said.
They said the California measure was trumped by a 1996 federal law barring any state from providing illegal immigrants any higher education benefits based on residency unless U.S. citizens were eligible for the same benefit.
The California Supreme Court ruled the state law was based on attending high school in the state, it says nothing about state residency and it does not violate federal law.
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected the appeal without comment.
In a separate case, the justices last month upheld an Arizona law that allows a state to shut down businesses that hire illegal immigrants, a different issue in the immigration policy debate.
The Supreme Court case is Robert Martinez v. Regents of the University of California, No. 10-1029.
Reporting by James Vicini, Editing by Bill Trott