Arizona court rules DACA students ineligible for in-state tuition
DACA students protest during an Arizona Board of Regents meeting at the UA in April.
In a blow to undocumented students, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival students — also known as DREAMers — do not have legal status in the state and therefore are ineligible to receive in-state tuition rates.
For Pima Community College student Erendida (who asked her last name be withheld), the ruling could have dire consequences for her education.
“As soon as I heard about it, I started to cry,” she said through tears.
As a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant, the ruling will have profound financial ramifications. Erendida is heartbroken over the decision.
“I already can’t afford a full schedule,” she said. “This just makes me getting my education last so much longer.”
Brought to Arizona by her parents at the age of 3, Erendida has a unique window into immigration policy and its effects.
“My younger sisters were both born here, so they are eligible for everything as citizens,” she said.
An Arizona Board of Regents survey in December 2016 found that 45 DACA students attend the UA. Associated Students of the University of Arizona President Matt Lubisich estimated a higher number, perhaps between 60 and 70.
Lubisich said he was taken aback by the ruling.
“Obviously it’s a huge disappointment,” he said. “I’ve been working with DACA students for the last half-semester. This is not the outcome we wanted.”
RELATED: DREAMers look for sanctuary at UA
The appeals court overturned a 2015 ruling by Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson, which determined that DACA recipients were lawfully present in the U.S. and therefore qualified for in-state tuition.
In the appeals court ruling, Judge Kenton Jones disagreed, determining that DREAMers were not conferred legal status in the state of Arizona. As a result, Jones overturned Anderson’s decision.
“They are more aptly described as beneficiaries of an executive branch policy designed to forego deportation of those who lacked unlawful intent in entering the country,” Jones wrote in the court’s decision. Because of this reversal, DACA students can’t qualify for in-state tuition.
The 2015 case was the result of then-Attorney General Tom Horne suing Maricopa County Community College District after its board of governors voted to allow DACA recipients to receive in-state tuition.
That MCCCD vote came after President Obama signed the executive order in 2012 creating DACA. Under DACA, some children of undocumented migrants qualify to receive work permits and, in some states such as Arizona, driver’s licenses.
Technically, the appeals court ruling affects only MCCCD colleges. However, all three state universities could be affected. The Arizona Board of Regents, which determines tuition rates, ruled DACA students eligible to receive in-state tuition in 2015.
As such, UA leadership does not yet have an official statement in response to the new ruling.
Eileen Klein, Regents president, released a statement in response: “If [Tuesday’s] decision stands, DACA students will no longer qualify for in-state tuition at Arizona’s public universities.”
If that is the case, Lubisich isn’t happy about it.
“Some of these students have been here basically their whole lives,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to punish them.”
ASUA will continue to be a resource for all students, including the undocumented, according to Lubisich.
“We are going to keep fighting for them,” he said. “They are students like anyone else, and we will fight this fight together,” he said.
Lubisich noted ASUA is currently putting students affected by the ruling in contact with the Immigration Resource Center and private scholarship services.
While Lubisich can understand some people believe DACA students take spots from local students, he doesn’t subscribe to that interpretation.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion,” he said, “but I don’t think of it as them taking someone’s spot.” Instead, Lubisich condemned the decision, saying it “deprives these students of an education; that’s not something we want to be doing.”
Despite the ruling, Erendida plans to continue going to school.
Erendida wasn’t too worried about the current political climate, but Tuesday’s ruling changed that.
“I felt like the government had our back for a second,” she said. “Now it’s the opposite.”
Follow Eddie Celaya on Twitter.