IDRA & Presidents’ Alliance React to Oral Arguments in University of North Texas Case

(Washington, D.C. • February 13, 2023) Last week, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit heard oral arguments in Young Conservatives of Texas Foundation v. Smatresk, et. al. In this case, the University of North Texas was sued for charging out-of-state U.S. citizens out-of-state tuition, as required by state law. A federal district court had ruled against UNT, finding that the Texas law setting higher out-of-state tuition for U.S. citizens is preempted by a 1996 federal immigration law, despite the strong legal foundation that allows states to affirmatively extend in-state tuition to undocumented students on a variety of non-residency requirements.

The district court’s injunction prevents UNT from charging out-of-state tuition to out-of-state residents, potentially costing UNT millions of revenue every year.

The Texas state law extends in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students if they meet a number of requirements, including graduating from a Texas high school (or equivalent). Currently, 23 states and D.C., including Arizona, California, Florida and Utah, have also extended in-state eligibility to their states’ undocumented students.

In Texas, with over 17,000 undocumented students graduating from Texas high schools annually, and about 58,000 pursuing higher education, these students are contributing daily to their schools and communities. Among them are students pursuing nursing, teaching and engineering degrees. Charging non-state residents higher tuition, with the extra money it generates, is a crucial part of the blend of revenues that enable public universities and colleges in Texas – as in other states across the country – to provide excellent and affordable public education to all Texas students.

Both IDRA and the Presidents’ Alliance submitted amicus briefs in support of UNT, agreeing that the Texas state law is not preempted by the 1996 federal law. Following are statements from Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., of IDRA, and Miriam Feldblum of the Presidents’ Alliance for Higher Education and Immigration.

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Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., IDRA chief legal analyst, stated: “YCT has continued to misrepresent the intent and operation of both the federal immigration and state tuition laws at issue in this case. The district court’s injunction allows out-of-state students who have not grown up or paid taxes in Texas to skip the line over hardworking Texans from all backgrounds.

“The injunction, if allowed to stand, threatens the integrity of our state’s system of higher education finance and will set Texas back in its constitutional and legislative commitment to increase higher education access and completion for Texas students, diminishing educational opportunity for all Texans.”

Miriam Feldblum, executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance, stated: “While we do not know the eventual ruling, the oral arguments underscore the threat this lawsuit poses to the state’s higher education policy. While the Court acknowledged the flawed argument that UNT could be forced to change its tuition policy with respect to out-of-state students, let’s also be clear that states can affirmatively extend in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students if the students meet certain non-residency requirements.

“Texas state policy meets this standard, and UNT rightfully follows this policy, which has been in place in Texas since 2001, and which has greatly benefited the state, its economy and workforce, as well as students and communities. Undocumented students in Texas who have grown up in Texas and graduated from Texas high schools want to go to college, launch careers and contribute back to Texas like their friends and neighbors.”

IDRA’s amicus brief on behalf of 12 business, higher education and student organizations outlines how the district court’s injunction upends nearly a century of settled tuition law and practice, undermines the Texas Legislature’s intent and infrastructure to support college access for all Texans and hurts the Texas economy. The brief was written by Celina Moreno, J.D., and Paige Duggins-Clay, J.D., at IDRA.

The Presidents’ Alliance amicus brief explains the economic and social importance of helping all Texas students achieve a postsecondary education, the historical background and purpose for establishing higher non-resident tuition, and the devastating consequences for Texas public institutions if the district court’s ruling were upheld. The brief was written by Raffi Melkonian, Michael Adams-Hurta and Ruben C. Garza at Wright Close & Barger, LLP.

Media Contacts

Thomas Marshall III, IDRA (

Diego Sánchez, President’s Alliance (

About Us

The nonpartisan, nonprofit Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration brings college and university presidents and chancellors together on the immigration issues that impact higher education, our students, campuses, communities and nation. We work to advance just, forward-looking immigration policies and practices at the federal, state and campus levels that are consistent with our heritage as a nation of immigrants and the academic values of equity and openness. The Alliance is composed of over 550 presidents and chancellors of public and private colleges and universities, enrolling over five million students in 43 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

IDRA is a national independent, non-profit organization. Our mission is to achieve equal educational opportunity for every child through strong public schools that prepare all students to access and succeed in college. IDRA strengthens and transforms public education by leading policy analyses and advocacy; dynamic teacher training and principal coaching; useful research, evaluation, and frameworks for action; and innovative student, family and community engagement.