Frontera Fund News

Why Should Dreamers Get In-State Tuition?


“We have slain the dragon again,” said attorney Daniel Ortega at a press conference, surrounded by celebrating students. “All of these anti-immigrant initiatives are going down one by one.”

Ortega was referring to the Maricopa County Superior Court’s decision on May 5 to allow immigrant students who qualify for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to pay in-state tuition at the county’s 10 community colleges.

To many people’s surprise, the following day, the Arizona Board of Regents voted to grant in-state tuition to these “Dreamers” at Arizona’s three public universities. Another dragon was slain.

But no sooner had the smoke cleared than opponents began breathing fire.

Russell Pearce, former state senator and the author of SB 1070, wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Republic on May 10 calling Judge Arthur Anderson’s decision “an attack on the rule of law and a slap in the face to the voters.”

Pearce was referencing Proposition 300, a 2006 voter-approved referendum that denied undocumented immigrants the ability to pay in-state tuition or receive financial aid. Since out-of-state tuition costs around three times as much as in-state, this effectively barred undocumented students from attending college.

But after the Obama administration instituted DACA in 2012, the Maricopa Community College District decided to allow students who qualified for DACA’s deportation relief and work visas to pay in-state tuition, as long as they were Arizona state residents.

In 2013, “the state – mainly Tom Horne, who believed he was the state at the time – disagreed with the Maricopa Community College District and filed a lawsuit,” Ortega said.

Thus began what Ortega, a lawyer in the case, calls “a tremendous legal battle” that extended to boardrooms and campuses across the state.

“It was up to us, the students, our allies, our legal team, our professors to come out and say, ‘No. This isn’t right. This isn’t just,’” said Korina Iribe, an organizer with the Arizona Dream Act Coalition.

“Our success doesn’t take away from your success. When [Dreamers] succeed, the state succeeds.”

Last week, Judge Anderson ruled that Arizona’s Proposition 300 doesn’t deny public benefits to immigrants who are in the country legally. Since the federal government deems DACA recipients to be lawfully present in the U.S., and since federal law – not state law – determines legal presence, the state must recognize that these students are lawfully present in Arizona and, therefore, qualify for in-state tuition.

Other opponents wrote into news outlets complaining that children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents will now pay lower tuition rates than U.S. citizens from other states. But supporters of the decision say that, unlike students from other states, these immigrant children have worked hard in Arizona schools for years while their parents contribute to Arizona’s economy and pay various Arizona taxes.

Advocates also say it’s bad economics to deny thousands of students who want to advance their education, contribute to the workforce, and pay taxes the opportunity to do so.

“I think it’s really time to take a look at our investment in these children,” Ortega says. “We take them all the way from kindergarden to high school and then say to them, ‘No. You can’t attend college. Or you can, but you’re going to pay more than everybody else.”

“We are all Arizonans,” says German Carena, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University whose parents brought him to the U.S. from Venezuela when he was 15. “Our success doesn’t take away from your success. When we succeed, the state succeeds.”