Frontera Fund News

Maricopa Community Colleges Will Appeal In-State Tuition Ruling for DACA Students

DACA-DREAMers have fought many battles. This will not stop now.  Photo credit: Frontera Fund
DACA-DREAMers have fought many battles. This will not stop now. Photo credit: Frontera Fund

In a close victory for DREAMers and their allies, the Maricopa County Community College District voted to appeal the recent court ruling that would prevent DACA recipients from paying in-state tuition in Arizona colleges.

The 4-3 vote came on Tuesday, June 27, after so many students and supporters packed into the board’s meeting room that a second room had to be opened.

In 2015, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge supported the MCCCD’s decision to allow DACA beneficiaries to pay in-state tuition. The judge determined that DACA confers legal presence to DREAMers and therefore allows them to receive state benefits.

However, just last week, Judge Kenton Jones of the state appellate court overturned that decision, saying DACA does not confer legal status.

If DACA students once again had to pay out-of-state tuition – which is three to four times more expensive than in-state tuition – higher education would be an impossible dream for many young people.

Students traveled from around Arizona to encourage the board to vote for an appeal, and a few spoke movingly about their own experiences.

“You are our and my only hope since I’ve been in the U.S at the age of 3, when my family made the decision to migrate to Arizona to provide for my family and to contribute to Arizona and the U.S.,” said Ezequiel Santos, a DACA recipient and student at Mesa Community College. “As you make your decision whether you appeal or not, I want you to think of the ambitious young men and women who love this country and the state as much as I do. I respectfully ask you to not close your doors on us now.”

Board member Dr. Linda Thor said her decision to vote for the appeal was influenced by her immigrant father, who came to the U.S. alone at age 17. “I feel that we have a moral and ethical responsibility to our students,” she said. “And frankly I couldn’t sleep tonight if I took an action that abruptly ended the dreams of over 2,000 students just in the Maricopa Colleges just this year.”

The decision actually affects far more students, since the state universities followed the MCCCD’s lead in 2015 and also began offering in-state tuition. The total number of students is unknown, but there are approximately 28,000 DACA recipients in Arizona.

Thor also stated that the mission of the community colleges is to prepare students for university and to prepare a skilled workforce that builds a strong economy, “and it’s clear from the speakers tonight that the DACA students are doing exactly that.”

What’s more, DACA students paid almost $2.9 million in tuition last year. So it’s a smart financial decision for colleges to encourage DACA students to pursue higher education.

Aliento, an undocumented-led organization, is preparing to launch a campaign to protect in-state tuition for DACA recipients. They are currently fundraising to support student organizers to mobilize community college and high school students to support in-state tuition in the coming months.

Arizona’s 2006 Proposition 300 denies in-state tuition for students without legal status. However, that law came before DACA, and the question that remains to be decided in courts is whether DACA confers “legal presence” or “legal status” and what rights that gives to students.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund is also considering filing an appeal with the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Lacey and Larkin Frontera Fund will keep you updated as developments occur. Meanwhile, DACA recipients should continue to apply for and attend college as in-state tuition should be available for the next semester.

Update: The Arizona Board of Regents announced that they support MCCCD’s appeal and that they will keep in-state tuition for DACAmented students until the Supreme Court makes its decision.