Arizona Board of Regents Grants In-State Tuition To Certain Immigrants
PHOENIX — The board overseeing Arizona's three public universities voted unanimously Thursday to grant in-state tuition to young immigrants who have been granted deferred deportation status by the Obama administration, citing a Maricopa County judge's ruling that said the students are considered legally present in the state.
The decision by the Arizona Board of Regents came just two days after Judge Arthur Anderson ruled in a case brought by the attorney general against Maricopa County Community College District. That case challenged lower in-state tuition charged to so-called dreamers offered deferred action status under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
The action takes effect immediately for students enrolling in summer or fall classes, but board President Eileen Klein said it isn't clear how many will be affected. The cost difference between in-state and nonresident tuition is significant, with nonresidents charged at least twice as much at all three universities.
Anderson's ruling only applied to Maricopa County Community College District and did not set statewide legal precedent. Attorney General Mark Brnovich has said he's considering whether to appeal.
But regents said they believe the ruling applies statewide.
"Right now, it is not unsettled law as far as the state goes," Regent Bill Ridenour said. "I think it's frankly past time we did something for these students. We are trying to comply for state law; that was the reason for the 150 percent."
The board on Monday had advanced a proposed policy that would offer tuition at 150 percent of in-state rates to DACA students and to others, such as those who graduated from Arizona high schools but then moved out of state. The regents still plan to vote on that policy next month, but DACA students will not be affected because of the new policy classifying them as in-state residents.
Regents and Klein said they were not concerned about possibly having to repay the state for the difference between tuition rates if an appeals court overturns Anderson's order.
"Until the judge’s decision, there really was not a feeling on the part of the board that they could proceed with in-state tuition rates," Klein said. "But the judge’s decision really clears the path and provides the opportunity now for these students to qualify for in state tuition."
"We can't anticipate right now what action might be taken," Klein said. "We'll see what the attorney general does. But as Regent Ridenour said, today this is the law and we intend to comply with the law."
A spokesman for Brnovich didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gov. Doug Ducey and Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas sit on the board by virtue of their posts, but neither participated Thursday.
"I'm thrilled to see ABOR move so quickly on this issue," said Rep. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix. "The effects for my constituents are huge. I've had so many students who have contacted me telling me that they simply can't afford to pursue a higher education."
The higher tuition combined with limited financial aid resources for DACA students prices them out of the universities.
"And these are kids that want to contribute, they want to learn and they want to be contributing members of our society," Quezada said. "Now, with this, they'll really be able to do that."
Enrique Bojorquez, who was born in Tiujana, is a student at ASU majoring in urban planning. He was born in Tiujana. Bojorquez said he was "joyful" about the decision.
He said now he'll be able to afford to take more classes and finish his degree faster.
"Previous to this decision right here, I was expecting in the best of cases to finish school in like two years, And now if this continues on I can possibly finish school in a year," Bojorquez said.
Charging students living in Arizona who lack legal documentation more for tuition began after a 2006 voter-enacted law known as Proposition 300, which barred public benefits to anyone without legal presence in the U.S. Anderson's ruling said Proposition 300 doesn't bar public benefits for immigrants lawfully in the U.S., and the federal government considers recipients of deferred action lawfully present. Thus, they can get lower in-state tuition, he ruled.
Ana Rodriguez, a mechanical engineering major at Pima Community College in Tucson, said she was elated that the regents acted so quickly. Rodriguez, 22, is graduating in a few weeks and hopes to transfer to a university, but couldn't afford out-of-state rates.
Rodriguez was brought to the U.S. when she was 8 years old and has lived in Tucson since then. PCC offers in-state tuition to its DACA students but was not part of the lawsuit.
"Now that in-state tuition is possible in my city and in my state, that makes it a lot easier to move on to my higher education goals and my career," Rodriguez said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: KJZZ is licensed to the Maricopa County Community College District.
Updated May 7, 2015 at 4:58 p.m.