Arizona Supreme Court Mulls Immigrant Tuition Case

Apr 3, 2018

Immigrant college students whose deportations have been put on hold said Monday their studies will be derailed if the Arizona Supreme Court decides they don't qualify for lower in-state school costs.

Immigrant students gather outside the Arizona Supreme Court April 2, 2018.
Credit AP Photo/Anita Snow

Jocelyn Lopez, an 18-year-old who is finishing her first year at Arizona State University studying biomedical sciences, was among several dozen recipients of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, who gathered outside the Supreme Court building as the panel mulled arguments by both sides in a case involving the lower tuition.

The hearing involved an effort by the Maricopa County Community Colleges District to overturn a 2017 state Court of Appeals ruling that found young immigrants in the program aren't eligible for lower in-state tuition.

Chief Justice Scott Bales asked the two sides on Monday to submit information about when colleges planned to send out letters to students telling them what their tuition will be for the next semester. He said the court would issue a decision "in due course."

Lopez said she will have to delay her dreams of becoming a doctor if she loses in-state tuition because she would have to spend more than $30,000 a year — three times what she now spends.

"That's really impossible for my family to pay," said Lopez, who was a year old when her parents brought her to the U.S. from their native Guadalajara, Mexico, where her grandfather is an orthopedic surgeon.

Inside the courthouse, attorney Mary O'Grady, representing immigrant students, said young people covered by the DACA program, known as Dreamers, have federal government permission to be in the U.S. and should be eligible for lower in-state tuition at Arizona state colleges and universities.

O'Grady noted that DACA recipients are allowed to have work permits and driver's licenses.

Arizona Assistant Attorney General Rusty D. Crandell said the state does not consider the students to be lawfully present in Arizona when it comes to college tuition.

The hearing came a day after a fresh blast of tweets by President Donald Trump on border and immigration issues, including a declaration that a deal to help "Dreamer" immigrants remain in the country is "dead because the Democrats didn't care or act."

Former President Barack Obama created the program to provide temporary protection and work permits to hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are living in the U.S. illegally after being brought here as children. The program was later closed to new entrants and Trump ended it last year.

Trump gave Congress six months to pass legislation extending it, but a deal has not been reached.

The appellate court said the program did not confer legal status and each state can decide on optional benefits for DACA recipients.

Arizona law bars public benefits such as in-state tuition for students without legal status.

"We don't want special favors, we want equity" with other students with Arizona residency, Belen Sisa, a 24-year-old senior at ASU, told the morning rally outside court. Her parents brought her to the U.S. from Argentina when she was 6.