Although a federal judge ruled last year that the University of North Texas could not charge out-of-state students higher tuition than illegal aliens residing in Texas, an appeals court has reversed the decision. 

On Monday, the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the university can charge out-of-state students higher tuition than illegal aliens, allowing the school to resume its tuition practices. 

The lawsuit started three years ago, when the Texas Public Policy Foundation filed a lawsuit against UNT officials on behalf of Young Conservatives of Texas. The lawsuit argued that UNT’s tuition scheme violated federal law.

TPPF’s lawsuit was centered on the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. That law states that an illegal alien living in the United States is not entitled to any post-secondary benefit unless a citizen of the United States is eligible for the same benefit. However, in 2001 Texas passed a law allowing illegal aliens to be eligible for in-state tuition if they live in the state and meet certain residency requirements—while denying that benefit to other U.S. citizens. 

In response, U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan ruled in favor of the group, barring the university from charging out-of-state tuition to out-of-state students. Jordan ruled that because Texas’ nonresident tuition scheme conflicts with federal law, it should be preempted and therefore ruled unconstitutional. 

However, the new ruling issued by the Fifth Circuit Court argued that Judge Jordan abused his discretion when he prohibited the university from allowing illegal aliens to pay less than legal citizens, saying his reading of the law was “erroneous” and believes he misapplied the factual or legal conclusions when creating the injunction.

“Because the district court awarded a permanent injunction by relying on its erroneous preemption analysis, it abused its discretion,” the judges ruled.

Although the court reversed previous judgment and canceled the permanent injunction, the justices did leave room for future challenges to Texas’ law. In their ruling, they wrote, “There may be valid preemption challenges to Texas’ scheme. But this is not one of them.” 

Christian Townsend, an attorney at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, told Texas Scorecard that while they are pleased that the court recognized their clients, they are disappointed with the outcome:

While we’re pleased that the Fifth Circuit recognized our clients had standing and are being injured by UNT’s tuition scheme along with the Court’s acknowledgement that Texas’s tuition scheme is, at best, constitutionally suspect; we ultimately disagree with the court as to the proper remedy. We’re disappointed for our clients who now, as the Court recognized, have to pay 9 times more in-tuition than illegal aliens.

Neither UNT nor YCT have responded to a request for comment. 

Emily Medeiros

Emily graduated from the University of Oklahoma majoring in Journalism. She is excited to use her research and writing skills to report on important issues around Texas.