Dreamer Students in Arizona Lose In-State Tuition

By Molly Zilli, Esq. on April 11, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The battle over immigration wages on. You've probably heard some mention of President Trump and the courts struggling over what to do about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In the latest chapter of the saga, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that DACA students -- also called Dreamers -- cannot receive in-state tuition rates to attend Arizona schools, making higher education significantly more expensive for this subset of the population.

DACA Student Rates Triple

DACA refers to the federal program which allows immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to defer deportation for two years (at which point they can apply for renewal of their enrollment). They are not given formal legal status, but are allowed to work and study legally in the U.S.

Dreamers have been able to receive lower in-state tuition rates at University of Arizona, Arizona State, and Norther Arizona University since 2015. At UA, for example, the in-state cost is $12,228 for new students, compared to $35,658 for non-resident undergrads. The rate differences are similar for Arizona's community colleges.

Court Rules In-State Rate for DACA Violates State, Federal Law

The state's Supreme Court has ruled that current law does not allow Arizona colleges and universities to grant in-state tuition to students who do not have permanent legal status. For one thing, Arizona voters passed a law in 2006 which says that any person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or is "without lawful immigration status" is not eligible to receive the same tuition rate as residents.

The justices did not release a full explanation of their ruling -- we can expect that on May 14 -- but wanted to announce their decision to give affected students as much time as possible to plan around the ruling.

In the meantime, the Arizona Board of Regents has introduced a plan to offer dreamers a tuition rate equal to one-and-a-half times the in-state rate. Once the justices release their full ruling, it may shed light on whether or not this proposal is consistent with state and federal law.

If you're concerned about your immigration status, DACA enrollment, or other immigration issues, contact an immigration attorney who can help you figure out the next steps to take.

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