Former President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program created something of a legal limbo for a select class of illegal immigrants, shielding them from deportation without granting them legal status. Now, some of the program’s enrollees could quite literally be paying for that uncertainty.
According to The Washington Times, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that DACA recipients, also known as “dreamers,” are not eligible for the in-state tuition rates that some state colleges and universities were offering them, and instead will have to pay out-of-state rates.
That 7-0 decision upheld an earlier 3-0 state court of appeals ruling against the Maricopa Community Colleges, who had decided on their own volition to extend in-state tuition rates to DACA recipients. The ruling applies to all state colleges and public universities in Arizona.
The appeals court had ruled that both federal and state law granted that sort of decision-making power to the state’s political branches, and not the colleges or universities. At the heart of the decision was a 2006 law passed by voters known as Proposition 300, which declared that illegal immigrants were not eligible to receive state benefits, including in-state tuition rates.
“While people can disagree what the law should be, I hope we all can agree that the attorney general must enforce the law as it is, not as we want it to be,” stated Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
The Arizona Republic reported that an estimated 2,000 DACA recipients are currently enrolled in community colleges or state universities at in-state tuition rates, and could now find themselves being compelled to pay nearly three times as much for out-of-state rates if they wish to remain in school.
As might be expected, advocates for DACA recipients are incensed by the court’s ruling. They have claimed the decision essentially blocks access to education for dreamers by making it “impossible” for them to afford, especially when considering these particular illegal immigrants aren’t eligible for any sort of state or federal financial assistance because of their lack of legal status.
But based on a clear reading of the 2006 law, those dreamers should never have received the lower in-state tuition rates from colleges in the first place.
As Brnovich stated, “It’s about time someone held (the colleges) accountable, and that’s my job. My role as AG is to make sure you’re following the law.”
Though Brnovich did express some sympathy for the plight of the dreamers, he nevertheless pointed out that the law is the law. “What makes this country unique and great … is because the rule of law means something,” the attorney general said.
However, the Arizona Daily Sun reported that some college-aged dreamers may not ultimately find themselves having to pay the substantially higher out-of-state tuition rates thanks to something of a middle-ground solution worked out by the state university system’s Board of Regents.
That policy, put in place years ago by Regent Jay Heiler, “sets charges at 150 percent of the in-state rate for any student who graduated from an Arizona high school after attending school” in the state for at least three years, the Sun reported.
While that policy could very well be challenged through litigation, Heiler and others believe it will survive because the special rate would actually cover the costs of tuition, meaning state taxpayers would not be subsidizing or offering a “benefit” to illegal immigrants.
The Republic noted that the Arizona supreme court has only released a three-page order at this point, and won’t make the full opinion explaining the ruling public until May 14.
Whatever one may think about the state law or this court ruling, one thing that’s patently obvious is that the hap-hazard manner by which Obama devised and implemented the DACA program has once again hurt those individuals it purported to help by leaving them in a legal limbo.
The only way to truly solve the problems created by DACA is for Congress to finally agree on a permanent solution to the legal status question for DACA recipients, as President Donald Trump has repeatedly called on legislators to do.