DACA/DREAM Frontera Fund News Resources

Arizona’s Supreme Court Decides to Hear Case About DREAMers’ Access to In-State Tuition

Organizations such as National Immigration Law Center (NILC) track immigrants' access to higher education.
Written by Carmen Cornejo

In a small victory for young immigrant beneficiaries of DACA in Arizona, the state’s Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal regarding these individuals’ access to in-state tuition at public universities and community colleges.

In the latest development of the long dispute, Arizona justices said on February 13 that they will hear arguments from Maricopa County Community College District (MCCCD) and Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich. No date has been set for the hearing yet.

Last year, the Arizona Court of Appeals decided that DACA recipients are not entitled to in-state tuition at state-funded institutions of higher education, reversing a previous ruling in a lower court.

However, state universities and MCCCD decided to continue to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants, pending an appeal to the Supreme Court in the case State of Arizona v. Maricopa County Community College District Board.

At the center of the dispute is the language that describes undocumented youth, both in the DACA program and Proposition 300, which was passed in November 2006. Prop 300 denied in-state tuition to persons “without lawful immigration status.”

Mary O’Grady, the attorney for the Maricopa colleges, said last year when requesting a review by the Arizona Supreme Court that the appellate court ruling is wrong because it relies on the language in the 2006 law about who is a “legal resident” or “without lawful immigration status.” The lawyer said neither term is defined in federal law.

Federal law states that people who are “not lawfully present” in this country are not entitled to postsecondary education benefits.

Lawyers and advocates for DACA beneficiaries say that they are “lawfully present,” citing language used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) about the DACA program. The legal language for DACA states that “an individual who has received deferred action is authorized by DHS to be present in the United States.”

It is clear that Proposition 300 was not carefully crafted since it did not reflect language contained in federal law.

Follow this link to learn how various states offer immigrants different levels of access to higher education, according to a National Immigration Law Center (NILC) analysis.