DACA/DREAM Frontera Fund News

Court Reverses Access to In-State Tuition for DACA-DREAMers in Arizona

Photo credit: Diego Lozano
Photo credit: Diego Lozano
Carmen Cornejo
Written by Carmen Cornejo

Just a few days after the fifth anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an Arizona Appeals Court overturned a 2015 decision that gave access to in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who are DACA beneficiaries.

Presiding Judge Kenton Jones decided that DACA does not confer legal status to the young immigrants and that federal laws allow each state to decide which optional benefits DACA-DREAMers can access. Since the inception of the executive action, which started in 2012 under President Obama, Arizona has opposed giving DACA beneficiaries access to driver’s licenses and in-state tuition at public institutions of higher education.

This decision comes as a surprise to DREAMers who have already obtained education through in-state tuition, those who are currently in college, and those who were planning to apply for higher education opportunities.

Abel Badillo, a plaintiff in the ongoing litigation, stated that it is unfair to put obstacles in front of young people who just want to improve themselves with education. “We are limited because we cannot access federal grants or loans and be paying out-of-state tuition makes it impossible.”

Badillo, a DACA recipient, and Phoenix resident, just graduated this past May from Arizona State University with a BS in business marketing and a certification in small business and entrepreneurship. He is currently working in his field.

Badillo is looking forward to an appeal by the lawyers and continues to participate as plaintiff.

“People, my fellow DREAMers, should not get discouraged for this outcome and keep fighting,” he says. “We need to seek for a solution. This is one more obstacle that we are used to overcoming, and we will keep fighting, so everybody has a fair chance to education… I want to give other people the same opportunities I had. This hurts like it is happening to me all over again.”

Out of state tuition triples public colleges and universities fees. For community colleges, DACA recipients would be paying $9,000 per school year on full schedule, while at any of the 3 public universities in Arizona, fees rise from roughly $12,000 to $34,000 dollars per year with a full schedule.

It is calculated that there are several hundred DACA students at state universities and probably a few thousand at community colleges around the state. There are around 30,000 undocumented youth beneficiaries of the DACA program in Arizona.

Dulce Matuz, past president of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, said that DACA recipients in Arizona should not panic with this announcement. She stated that this decision does not affect driver’s licenses for DACA recipients. She encourages everyone to keep enrolling in higher education and take advantage of in-state tuition, which should be available for the next semester. She added that the team is considering all options.