Three Montgomery County residents have filed a lawsuit demanding that Montgomery College stop giving illegal immigrants its cheapest tuition rates. The civil suit seeks to terminate the college's long-standing policy that provides in-county tuition to any student who has graduated from a Montgomery public school within the previous three years, regardless of that student's immigration status.

All other students who apply to the college are required to prove their legal status.

"As far as I'm concerned, this is public corruption," said Republican Pat McDonough, a delegate from Baltimore County who is one of the state's most vocal proponents of stricter immigration laws. "They are public officials using taxpayer money for an unlawful act."

More than 60 percent of the college's $208 million operating budget in fiscal 2011 came from county and state appropriations.

The college says its policy is aimed at providing low-cost access to the greatest number of students possible.

"Montgomery College proudly provides everyone with open access to higher education in Montgomery County," the college wrote in a statement responding to the lawsuit.

All Maryland students -- including undocumented students -- are given free K-12 public education. State law prohibits undocumented students from receiving tuition assistance in higher education, however.

Two Montgomery County lawmakers are seeking to reverse that law this year. State Sens. Richard Madaleno, D-Kensington, and Victor Ramirez, D-Cheverly, are proposing legislation that would make some undocumented students eligible for financial aid at Maryland's public colleges and universities.

McDonough says the civil suit against Montgomery College is "just the first step." He said he plans to file a criminal suit with the state and with the FBI's public corruption unit.

McDonough and members of the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch have led an informal investigation against the college for the past six months. Audits obtained during the investigation report the college has awarded in-county tuition for more than 11,000 credit hours annually to students who failed to verify their legal status, according to the lawsuit.

The suit, which was filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, claims the college could have collected an additional $5.9 million over the course of three years if it had charged those students out-of-state rates.

In-county tuition totals $321 for a three-credit course, compared with $657 for Marylanders from other counties and $897 for everyone else.

The lawsuit's plaintiffs include Michael Lee Philips, of Rockville and Patricia Fenati, of Damascus, both of whom ran for office on a Republican ticket in 2010.

Philips sought to unseat Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen, and Fenati campaigned for a seat in the state House of Delegates.