Arizona Court Overturns In-State Tuition for DACA Students

June 21, 2017

A state appeals court in Arizona overturned a lower court ruling extending in-state tuition to undocumented immigrant students who gained protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, The Arizona Republic reported. Arizona law prohibits charging in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants, but a 2015 ruling by a Maricopa County Superior Court judge held that individuals with DACA status are lawfully present in the U.S. and are therefore eligible for the lower in-state rate -- a decision the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned Tuesday. About 250 DACA students are enrolled in Arizona’s public universities, and another 2,056 are enrolled in Maricopa Community Colleges, which serve the Phoenix area.

The ruling stems from a suit filed by Arizona's attorney general against Maricopa Community Colleges in 2013. Matt Hasson, communications director for Maricopa, said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed that the college is “reviewing the appeals court ruling with outside counsel, and our governing board will meet next week in executive session to discuss this matter.” The president of the Arizona Board of Regents, Eileen Klein, also said the board is reviewing the decision and "will be monitoring the case for further developments including any decision by the Maricopa County Community College District to seek further review.”

"The superior court decision that was reversed today was the basis for ABOR’s decision in 2015 to extend in-state tuition to eligible Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students," Klein said in a statement. "If today’s decision stands, DACA students will no longer qualify for in-state tuition at Arizona’s public universities" -- though, she said, they may be eligible for a special nonresident tuition rate for Arizona high school graduates, set at 150 percent of undergraduate resident tuition.

“Nevertheless, we recognize that today’s decision is difficult news for the DACA students currently at our public universities,” Klein said. “While the board and our universities seek in all ways to honor and obey both state and federal law, we are concerned about the success and needs of the DACA students who have selected to earn their degree at our universities.”

Arizona's attorney general, Mark Brnovich, is quoted by The Arizona Republic saying that more than 70 percent of voters approved a 2006 ballot proposition prohibiting in-state tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants. "I am sympathetic to all young adults looking to improve their lives, but as attorney general my job is to defend the law and not second-guess the will of Arizona voters," Brnovich said.

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