The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) decided on June 29 to continue offering in-state tuition for students protected under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program while waiting on further review by the Arizona Supreme Court.
Although the ABOR’s decision to extend in-state tuition temporarily allows short-term relief for advocates and students of DACA, the Arizona Court of Appeals 4-3 vote to overturn in-state tuition for undocumented students at colleges and universities in Maricopa County threatens to be a new obstacle that DACA students might end up facing.
DACA student Adriana Hernandez, 24, is the only member in her family still fighting for residency and has relied heavily on in-state tuition to make her own goals and dreams of achieving a higher education a reality.
“I already have my associates and it’s been a huge accomplishment to show my family that whatever they’ve risked to come here was worth it,” Hernandez said. “I plan on going above and beyond; I want to get my bachelors and eventually my masters.”
Hernandez attended the board meeting where she said her and many other students were advised to prepare for their next steps whether they win or lose the fight for in-state tuition.
“In order to go to school I have to work and then on top of that I need to be making enough money to pay for all of the other necessities,” Hernandez said. “If we don’t win in-state tuition I’ll have to sacrifice my schooling to continue to work.”
Hernandez said that she plans on continuing to fight for her education even if in-state tuition for DACA students is overturned.
“I’m not only fighting for the things that I want but the things that I need,” Hernandez said. “It’s my education, it’s something that matters to me.”
President of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, Karina Ruiz, struggled to complete school with the arrival of Proposition 300 in 2006.
The proposition denied in-state tuition and financial aid eligibility to any university students that were not considered U.S. citizens or permanent residents.
It took Ruiz 12 years to finish her degree in Biochemistry at Arizona State University due to the overwhelming university expenses that resulted from Proposition 300.
“A lot of students that are permanent residents don’t qualify for financial aid and other student loans and that puts them in a difficult situation,” Ruiz said. “They struggle just like us but they can’t sympathize with us.”
Ruiz said that DACA is facing two crucial ongoing court cases fighting for in-state tuition and DACA drivers licenses.
“It’s crucial that we win because we know if we do the rest of the country will follow,” Ruiz said.
Rep. Isela Blanc, D-Tempe, was undocumented as a child and faced similar challenges that DACA students and youth experience today.
She said that there are too many assumptions suggesting that immigrants and DACA applicants don’t contribute to state or property taxes.
“These [DACA members] are young adults that have been granted permission to obtain a social security number and permission to seek employment,” Blanc said. “Therefore, by working and having a social security number they’re actually paying into the social security system like everyone else.”
According to Blanc, she is the first formerly undocumented female to get elected into the Arizona State Legislature. She said that is important to look at the big picture and allow undocumented students to have the opportunity to become more educated and later contribute to the community.
“When you look at in-state tuition for these students you have to consider that they are already products of our public school system and we’ve already made an investment in them,” Blanc said. “If you have students that want to continue on with higher education, why would we discourage them by adding more barriers?”