As Arizona State University students load up their backpacks, search for their classrooms and crack open new textbooks this fall, they’ll be joined by 71 students who may otherwise have had to stay home.
For the first time since the passage of Prop 300 in 2006, the university is offering in-state tuition for DACA-Dreamers, making the college experience and its lifelong opportunities more accessible to undocumented immigrants.
Previously, undocumented students were charged out-of-state tuition, which costs around three times as much as in-state. Given that many Dreamers struggle to pay even the $465 DACA application fee, this policy effectively barred undocumented students from attending college.
“As an undocumented student in high school, when graduation came, every aspiration and dream I had seemed unreachable,” said Belen Sisa. “Not because I wasn’t willing to put in the hard work, but because I couldn’t afford to pay out-of-state tuition in the state that I call home.”
“Having been a Dreamer for more than 10 years and paying out-of-state tuition, having to fundraise to start my doctoral program at ASU, I am so happy that this day is happening.”
But after a long battle spearheaded by Dreamers, the Maricopa County Superior Court decided in May to allow immigrant students with DACA status to pay in-state tuition at the county’s 10 community colleges. The following day, the Arizona Board of Regents voted to grant in-state tuition to DACA-Dreamers at Arizona’s three public universities. Arizona DACA students still do not receive federal or state financial aid.
“As a Dreamer who was brought here by my parents at age 15, fleeing a potential dictatorship in Venezuela, having been a Dreamer for more than 10 years and paying out-of-state tuition, having to fundraise to start my doctoral program at ASU, I am so happy that this day is happening,” said German Cadenas at a rally in May.
It’s impossible to know how many more Dreamers enrolled at ASU as a result of the ruling. The university released a statement saying, “ASU’s first responsibility is to students from Arizona, but we also welcome qualified students from the world over, regardless of citizenship. Accordingly, we have not tracked documented status.”
ASU does track applications for in-state tuition, however, and said that for the fall semester, 71 students who self-identify as having DACA status have applied for in-state tuition using their Employment Authorization Card/Documents (EAD). The University of Arizona currently has 75 DACA-Dreamer applicants, while Northern Arizona University has three.
But these students are standing on uncertain ground.
In July, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich appealed the ruling. Brnovich’s director of communications, Ryan Anderson, said Judge Arthur Anderson “took a great leap in logic” when he determined that DACA confers “legal presence” to undocumented immigrants that allows them to pay the same tuition as those with “legal status.”
Many Dreamers enrolled at state universities are concerned tuition rates could spike if Brnovich succeeds. But Dreamers and those who advocate for them are nothing if not optimistic.
“If they do appeal,” attorney Daniel Ortega said after the ruling, “I am so confident that the courts will uphold the decision.”