Arizona High Court Strikes Down Tuition Break for Dreamers

FILE- In this Aug. 15, 2017, file photo, a woman holds up a signs in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, during an immigration reform rally at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

(CN) – The Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday immigrant students protected from deportation through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program must pay out-of-state tuition at state universities and colleges.

The justices unanimously upheld a June 2017 Arizona Court of Appeals finding that DACA students are ineligible for lower tuition typically given to state residents. Existing state and federal law for in-state tuition eligibility does not extend to students without permanent legal status, according to the ruling.

Chief Justice Scott Bales wrote the decision order and said it had been issued quickly to “allow as much time as possible for planning by those affected.” A full written opinion will be issued by May 14, he said.

Bales said the high court’s decision doesn’t impede any action Arizona lawmakers may take to extend in-station tuition rates to undocumented students, although doing so may run afoul of a constitutional mandate barring the Legislature from undoing the will of voters.

Immigrant advocates say the ruling will create a barrier to education for immigrants seeking to attend college or a university.

Ben Monterroso, executive director of immigrant advocacy organization Mi Familia Vota, said immigrant youth are “part of our communities” and deserve to be “better represented by their state” and elected officials.

“If [DACA recipients] earned their entrance into a university, they shouldn’t have to deal with increased financial barriers,” Monterroso said. “Especially if these obstacles are being implemented solely to serve a partisan ideology based in discrimination.”

Approximately 800,000 young immigrants who have been brought to the state as children and qualify for DACA are legally allowed to work and study in the United States.

President Donald Trump has tweeted about DACA frequently after announcing last year he would end the program.

He set a deadline of March 5 for Congress to pass legislation providing continued protections for DACA recipients. Congress has yet to pass bipartisan legislation, and Trump declared the program “dead” this month in a tweet.

The Arizona high court’s ruling means tuition could be double or even triple for more than 2,000 DACA recipients studying in Arizona public colleges.

The Arizona Board of Regents, which determines tuition rates, said in 2015 that DACA students were eligible to receive in-state tuition rates.

Abril Gallardo, an undocumented student at Phoenix College, said it was “unfortunate” Arizona officials were “amplifying anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies” spread by Trump.

“It’s going to be harder to continue with this journey,” she said. “But this court ruling doesn’t determine my dreams.”

Gallardo signed up for summer classes this morning, uncertain if the regents’ decision “would be respected.” She is in her last year of a public policy program and has two classes left to complete before she transfers to Arizona State University.

Before DACA, Gallardo could only afford to take one class at a time. Undocumented youth are ineligible for federal financial aid and Pell grants.

Under DACA, Gallardo was able to pay in-state tuition at Phoenix College which she said was $980 for a full semester with four classes. Without those rates extended to DACA students, she expects to pay the out-of-state rate of $2,940 for a semester.

“Immigrant youth have shown that attacks like this won’t stop us,” she said. “It’s not over.”

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