Arizona court overturns in-state tuition for ‘dreamers’

Originally published by AZ Central 

Young immigrants granted deferred deportation status under a program started by former President Barack Obama are not eligible for lower in-state college tuition, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

The court ruled that a judge’s 2015 decision that young immigrants known as “dreamers” were considered legally present in the U.S. and therefore qualify for state benefits was incorrect.

Presiding Judge Kenton Jones wrote that the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, did not confer that status. He said federal immigration law allows each state to decide on optional benefits for DACA recipients, and Arizona law bars in-state tuition.

The decision affects a couple hundred state university students and an unknown number attending community colleges. There are nearly 28,000 DACA recipients in Arizona.

“Dreamers” have been able to receive lower, in-state tuition rates at the state’s three universities — Arizona State, University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University — since 2015. The rates are substantially less than what non-resident students pay. For example, the in-state rate for undergraduate students at ASU is $10,640 this year compared to $23,892 for non-resident students.

The topic of dreamers and tuition has been controversial in Arizona.

Arizonans voted in 2006 to deny in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants.

Obama created a policy in 2012 that allows undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to apply for deportation deferments and work permits. Homeland Security officials have emphasized that work permits granted to people approved for DACA bestow legal presence, but not legal status.

The Maricopa County Community College District took the position that dreamers with work permits were eligible for lower, in-state rates. Then-state Attorney General Tom Horne sued the district in 2013, arguing the colleges were violating the state law enacted by voters.

In May 2015, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson ruled that Arizona law doesn’t bar benefits to immigrants lawfully in the country.

Under federal law, the DACA students are lawfully present, he wrote.

“Federal law, not state law, determines who is lawfully present in the U.S. … The circumstance under which a person enters the U.S. does not determine that person’s lawful presence here,” Anderson wrote.

The judge’s ruling prompted the Arizona Board of Regents, who oversee the state universities, to reverse their policy and begin offering lower, in-state tuition to dreamers in 2015.

Representatives from the regents and Maricopa Community Colleges were not immediately available for comment Tuesday on the appeals court ruling.

The regents said 240 DACA students were enrolled at the state universities as of December 2016: 186 at ASU, 45 at UA and nine at NAU.

Associated Press contributed to this story.

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