PHOENIX (CN) — Undocumented immigrants granted deferred deportation status by the Obama administration are not eligible for in-state college tuition, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
Presiding Judge Kenton Jones, on behalf of a unanimous court, found that young undocumented immigrants granted lawful status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were not deemed “lawfully present” by Congress and were not eligible for public benefits like in-state college tuition.
“[E]ven accepting DACA recipients’ positive societal attributes, Congress has not defined them, or deferred-action recipients generally, as ‘qualified aliens’ who are ‘lawfully present’ and thereby eligible to receive in-state tuition benefits,” Jones wrote for the court Tuesday.
Undocumented immigrants qualified for DACA if they were younger than 30, came to the United States before they were 16 and lived in the county for at least five years before the program was initiated by the Obama administration in 2012. The Trump administration announced last week that it would leave DACA in effect.
In 2013, then-Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne sued the Maricopa County Community College District to stop it from charging in-state tuition to individuals protected by DACA, nicknamed “dreamers” for the DREAM Act that afforded them their deferred status. The district is one of the largest education providers in the U.S., with around 220,000 enrolled students.
About 28,000 DACA recipients reside in Arizona, and approximately 2,000 of those recipients are students in the Maricopa County Community College District.
Maricopa County Judge Arthur Anderson found in 2015 that “dreamers” were lawfully present under DACA.
“Federal law, not state law, determines who is lawfully present in the U.S,” Anderson wrote. “The state cannot establish subcategories of ‘lawful presence,’ picking and choosing when it will consider DACA recipients lawfully present and when it will not.”
But the Arizona Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that Congress left it up to each state to determine whether undocumented immigrants were eligible for public benefits.
Arizona voters passed Proposition 300 in 2006, which served to ban undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition or financial aid from public funds.
“Arizona’s statutory scheme for postsecondary education benefits does not demonstrate an intent to create that eligibility for DACA recipients,” Jones wrote in the court’s 31-page opinion.
Attorney General Mark Brnovich backed the court’s ruling, saying in a statement that Arizona voters made their views about the eligibility of undocumented student immigrants clear by passing Prop. 300.
“More than 70 percent of Arizonans voted for Proposition 300 which defined eligibility for state-funded services, including preventing in-state tuition assistance to individuals in this country without legal status,” Brnovich said. “I am sympathetic to these young adults who are looking to improve their lives, but as Attorney General my job is to preserve the will of Arizona voters, not make new policy.”
Tuition rates vary largely across Arizona.
The Maricopa County Community College District charges $86 per credit hour for residents, and $241 per hour for out-of-state students.
A district spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
Tuition at Arizona State University, the state’s largest public university, is $10,640 annually for in-state residents and $$26,470 for non-residents. The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state’s three public universities, says about 250 DACA recipients attend the schools.