Public College In Arizona Breaks With Governor, Offers In-State Tuition To Undocumented Immigrants

At least one public college in Arizona is prepared to offer young undocumented immigrants who successfully applied for work permits under President Obama’s new deferred-action program the lower in-state tuition rate, a significant break for as many as 80,000 students eligible in the state.

Officials from the 10 campus-Maricopa Community Colleges determined that work permits fulfill their requirement that students provide proof of legal residency in Arizona. According to spokesman Tom Gariepy, a legal review determined that federally-issued work permits are already on a state-approved list of documents that are accepted by the Arizona Board of Regents as proof of residency.

The move by the Maricopa Community Colleges is in direct opposition to Governor Jan Brewer’s (R) firm anti-immigrant policies. On the same day that immigrants began applying for work permits through the federal government, Brewer issued an executive order forbidding state agencies from providing any new benefits to deferred action recipients, including in-state tuition.

The decision that the state-approved list trumps Brewer’s order could open the door for several other state universities to follow suit. Arizona State University and the University of Arizona — which together enroll almost 90,000 undergraduates — both include work permits on their lists of documents accepted as proof of residency, and the state board of regents is currently reviewing existing law to see if these newly-legal immigrants qualify for lower tuition:

The regents, Paquet said, “are continuing to review the statute in light of the board’s strong desire to facilitate access to higher education for all students within the constraints of applicable law.” Proposition 300, which took effect in 2007, “states that students must prove lawful immigration status to be eligible for in-state tuition at Arizona’s public universities,” she said.
The regents are reviewing to see if work permits granted through the deferred-action program will also be accepted to meet the lawful-residency rule for in-state tuition.

To date, just 12 states allow for undocumented immigrants to qualify for in-state tuition, while Arizona is one of four states that have expressly prohibited them from qualifying. In June, a small college in Colorado also took steps to provide greater access to higher education for that state’s undocumented immigrant population, offering a lower tuition rate to those who qualified.