‘Dreamers’ in Arizona are no longer eligible for in-state tuition, court rules

(Ross D. Franklin | The Associated Press) Liz Luna, right, hugs Norma Jimenez as they react to the Arizona Supreme Court ruling against young immigrants granted deferred deportation status under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, during a demonstration at the Arizona Capitol in Phoenix on Monday, April 9, 2018. Immigrants under the program are not eligible for lower in-state college tuition, the supreme court ruled Monday.

The Arizona Supreme Court on Monday ruled that young immigrants protected from deportation under an Obama-era program will no longer be eligible for in-state tuition at the state’s public colleges.

The court unanimously sided with the Arizona Court of Appeals, which ruled that federal and state laws do not allow Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition to Deferred Action for Childhood recipients, also known as “dreamers.”

Chief Justice Scott Bales said he issued the brief order to give the students impacted “as much time as possible for planning,” as student enrollment at community colleges for summer and fall has already begun. The court will issue a full opinion by mid-May, the order said.

The decision means that Arizona college tuition costs could double or even triple for DACA recipients. In-state tuition for the next school year at Arizona State University, for example, is $9,834, while nonresident tuition is $27,618, according to the Arizona Republic. Arizona residents pay $86 per credit hour at the Maricopa Community Colleges, while non-residents pay $241.

The ruling could affect upward of 2,000 DACA recipients who currently attend community colleges or state universities in Arizona and pay in-state rates, the Republic reported. Immigrant advocacy groups say the higher tuition rates could prove crippling for DACA students, leading fewer to enroll in college.

Karina Ruiz, executive director of the Arizona Dream Act Coalition, said in a news conference the decision “again shows that the politicians are going to continue their attacks on our community,” preventing students “from going to college, from contributing to society, from bettering themselves.” She said her organization will work to raise money to fund scholarships for the upcoming school year. “We’re going to find help for you,” she assured DACA students.

The news also comes as the DACA program as a whole is in limbo. The Trump administration planned to phase out the program and rescind work permits for hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients beginning March 5. But federal district judges in California and New York issued nationwide injunctions blocking those plans.

Trump has said he would like to reach a deal with Congress to protect dreamers from deportation in exchange for funding to build his long-promised wall at the U.S.-Mexico border. But he has rejected immigration proposals from congressional Democrats in recent months, and has recently tweeted that there will be “NO MORE DACA DEAL!”

DACA students could still take advantage of a different avenue toward more affordable tuition, Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow said in a statement. The Arizona Board of Regents in 2015 approved a lower tuition rate for non-residents who are Arizona high school graduates. A student who attended an Arizona high school for at least three years, graduated from an Arizona high school and is “lawfully present” in the state is eligible for a tuition rate of 150 percent of in-state tuition.

The Arizona Supreme Court said Monday that the ruling does not “foreclose any measures taken by the State, in compliance with federal law, to extend resident tuition rates to in-state high school graduates not lawfully residing here.”

But the order said any Arizona law could be subject to the Voter Protection Act, since voters approved a 2006 ballot measure requiring lawful immigration status for someone to receive public benefits, including in-state tuition.

“This clarification does nothing to alter our steadfast commitment to making higher education a reality for all Arizona high school graduates, including those who have DACA status,” Crow, the ASU president, said in a statement. “The university is currently looking into all options to assist Arizona high school graduates who are qualified to be in the U.S. under DACA with an uninterrupted educational journey beyond high school.”

Petra Falcon, executive director of Promise Arizona, said in a statement the ruling “basically declares that the future of thousands of Arizona Dreamers simply doesn’t matter.”

“In addition to its cruelty, the ruling makes no sense given that DACA recipients can legally drive and work in Arizona,” Falcon said. “In other words, it’s okay for them and their families to pay state taxes but they can’t receive in-state tuition to attend college?”

Carlos Yanez, a student at ASU studying biomedical sciences, said in a news conference that he is “really scared” about the decision. “This brings up the tuition from $12,000 to $22,000,” he said. “My parents can’t afford that. I can’t afford that. It’s really disheartening.”

Abril Gallardo, a DACA student paying in-state tuition at Phoenix College, said in a Facebook post that she was planning to transfer to ASU in January. Although the news is “very stressful” for her, she said she is more concerned about all those students who haven’t even had a chance to start college.

“Our Dreams don’t depend on a court ruling,” she wrote in another post, “we have put ourselves through school and we are going to continue to do so. Our fight is not over!”