Shortly after securing what they saw as a major victory for young immigrants without legal status, Arizona immigrant advocates are facing an attempt to wipe away the victory awarding in-state college tuition.
The state's Attorney General Mark Brnovich has appealed Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson’s ruling that young immigrants who were granted protection from deportation and work permits under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are eligible to pay in-state tuition rates at the Maricopa County Community Colleges.
The appeal came several weeks after the Arizona Board of Regents, citing the ruling, said DACA recipients also could begin paying in-state tuition at the state’s three public universities as well.
Former Attorney General Tom Horne filed the lawsuit challenging the Maricopa Community College District’s policy of allowing DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition in 2013.
Daniel Ortega, one of the attorneys who represented the DACA recipients in the lawsuit, said he was “very disappointed” when he heard that Brnovich had appealed the judge’s ruling. But, he expressed confidence that the appeal would fail. Ortega also indicated that an unsuccessful appeals court ruling could have statewide repercussions.
“If the appeal fails, things will remain in place; DACA-approved Dreamers will in fact continue to get in-state tuition,” he said.
Brnovich said in a statement to NBC News that DACA recipients do not have a “lawful status” in the United States and therefore are not eligible for in-state tuition. He cited Proposition 300, a law approved by Arizona voters in 2006 that denies in-state tuition to anyone who is “not a citizen or legal resident of the United States or who is without lawful immigration status.”
“Our appeal in the DACA in-state tuition case is about the rule of law and protecting the will of Arizona voters,” Brnovich said.
DACA was first made available in 2012 by the Obama administration to so-called Dreamers, young immigrants who arrived or remained illegally in the U.S. Most of them have lived in the U.S. virtually all of their lives. Its recipients, more than 600,000 to date, have to renew the status every two years.
After Proposition 300 was implemented in Arizona in 2007, the number of Dreamers who were pursuing higher education dropped significantly, especially at the university level, according to Arizona's Joint Legislative Budget Committee records. In the spring 2007 semester, there were 1,524 Dreamers attending the three state universities as out-of-state students. That number dropped to 16 in the fall 2014 semester.
In his ruling, Anderson said DACA recipients are “lawfully present” in the country and thus meet the requirements for in-state tuition in Arizona, despite Proposition 300. “Federal law, not state law, determines who is lawfully present in the U.S.,” he wrote.
As of February this year, 18 states allowed students without legal status to pay in-state tuition and three _ Arizona, Georgia and Indiana _ prohibited it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
German Cadenas, a 28-year-old native of Venezuela who was undocumented for more than 10 years before legalizing his status, said he remembers how difficult it was to pay out-of-state tuition as an undocumented undergraduate student. He mostly relied on private scholarships, because his undocumented status made him ineligible for state and federal financial aid.
Now a U.S. citizen and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association at Arizona State University, Cadenas has been helping coordinate a statewide effort to advocate for in-state tuition for DACA recipients.
“I think it’s almost impossible for Dreamers, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds and have immigrant parents who are probably working extremely hard just to get by, to be able to afford out-of-state tuition,” said Cadenas, who’s also a doctoral student.