Junive Gill plans to graduate next semester from Arizona State University, a step toward her ultimate goal of going to medical school to become a pediatric neurologist.
The 21-year-old student stands out among other young immigrants like her who arrived in the country illegally or stayed after a visa expired. Many are unable to get a college education because state law forces them to pay out-of-state-tuition rates, something Gill managed to do with a partial scholarship, work and generous contributions from people.
She joined dozens of students at a march Tuesday, calling on the Arizona Board of Regents to grant in-state tuition to immigrants who, like her, have received work permits and protection from deportation under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
But Arizona voters in 2006 approved a ballot measure prohibiting tuition to anyone who was not a citizen, legal resident or who lacked lawful immigration status. Students granted DACA are among those who must pay out-of-state rates.
“I don’t know what it’s like to live back in Mexico — Arizona is my home,” said Gill, who has been living in the United States since she was 2. “I want to give back to the community and being able to obtain my education is how I can do that.”
Just 16 undocumented students attended one of Arizona's three state universities in the fall 2014 semester, down from 1,524 undocumented students in the spring 2007 semester, according to Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee. State financial aid also is not available to the students. Federal financial aid is unavailable under federal law.
“Our message for the Arizona Board of Regents is to act now, do the right thing and pass tuition equality for DACA recipients,” said Jesus Cisneros, a 29-year-old doctoral student at Arizona State who was participated in Tuesday's march.
Sarah Harper, spokeswoman for the Arizona Board of Regents, said the board has no plans to consider any policy revisions.
“That said, the board recognizes the financial hardship the current Arizona laws create, especially for students who have lived most of their lives in Arizona, who have graduated from our high schools, who are lawfully present in Arizona under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and who want to continue their education at our public universities,” she said in a statement.
“The Arizona Board of Regents is working to find a solution within the constraints of these laws that will encourage these students to continue their education through our public universities and enhance their ability to continue to contribute to the future of Arizona,” Harper continued.
Belen Sisa, a 21-year-old undocumented student who came to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 6, hopes it comes in time for her to accomplish her dreams. She is finishing up her associate’s degree at Chandler-Gilbert Community College and hopes to transfer to ASU to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science.
“If in-state tuition is not made available to students like me, I’ll have to put my education on hold,” Sisa said.