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Arizona colleges move to extend tuition rate for immigrants

Posted at 2:30 PM, Aug 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-20 20:42:48-04

PHOENIX (AP) - Arizona universities are moving to expand access to a tuition rate paid by immigrants living in the country illegally who graduated from Arizona high schools after President Donald Trump's administration froze enrollment in a program that shielded them from deportation.

The state's three public universities have for several years allowed students from Arizona in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to pay university tuition that's higher than their in-state classmates but lower than the standard rate for out-of-state and international students.

The Board of Regents is scheduled to decide Thursday whether to eliminate the requirement for students to participate in DACA because future students can't get into the federal program.

"The board recognizes that Arizona has made a significant investment in students who have graduated from Arizona high schools, and this rate is intended to encourage students to stay here or move back and complete their education here and contribute to the state," said Sarah Harper, a spokeswoman for the regents.

The move is the latest effort by the regents to provide access to immigrants, often called "Dreamers" based on never-passed proposals in Congress called the DREAM Act, who have spent much of their lives in Arizona but aren't legally in the country. Voters in 2006 barred in-state tuition or publicly funded scholarships for them. After President Barack Obama created the DACA program, universities and community colleges charged in-state tuition to students in the program but were rebuffed by the Arizona Supreme Court.

Instead, they now charge 50% more than the in-state tuition rate, which Harper said covers the cost of university attendance without state subsidy.

The lower rates also apply to legal U.S. residents who graduated from Arizona high schools but moved away, losing their status as Arizona residents before returning to college.

Herminia Rincon, a spokeswoman for Arizona State University, said 329 students paid that rate last semester. Officials from University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University did not immediately provide data.

The Maricopa County Community College District charges the full out-of-state tuition rate to students living in the country illegally but works with Chicanos Por La Causa to raise private money to help defray the costs, said Dasi Danzig, a spokeswoman for the district. Just over 900 DACA students enrolled in Maricopa community colleges last semester, she said.

The action by the regents comes after lawmakers this year declined to take up legislation that would have accomplished the same thing, and also would have applied to community colleges. A bill by Republican Sen. Heather Carter cleared the Senate when several Republicans joined all Democrats in support, but it never got a vote in the House.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Court of Appeals declined to revive a lawsuit by Attorney General Mark Brnovich alleging tuition is too high at the state's three public universities. The justices upheld a 2018 decision by the Maricopa County Superior Court which found Brnovich doesn't have standing to sue over the issue.

Brnovich says current tuition rates violate the Arizona Constitution's guarantee of a college education that's "as nearly free as possible." The regents say universities have to contend with declining state support.