Arizona sued one of the nation’s largest community college systems for providing reduced tuition to undocumented college students this week. Arizona officials are specifically preventing in-state tuition to immigrants who were granted deferred action and thus given temporary legal status and the ability to work in the U.S. If successful, the lawsuit could adversely impact 13,674 such individuals who make up a portion of the 80,000 undocumented deferred action youths living in Arizona.
Attorney General Tom Horne charged that the 10-campus Maricopa Community Colleges violates a new state law that prohibits immigrants without legal status from receiving public benefits, such as state tuition.
However, the Maricopa County school district’s spokesman Tom Gariepy said the deferred status of these individuals makes them legal immigrants, even if it is for two years, and thus eligible for in-state tuition. He said, “From our point of view, we didn’t change our policy because what we were doing all along was accepting federal work permits… Our point has been that we don’t feel we should have to discriminate among the people who present us those permits.”
Arizona’s law doesn’t define what constitutes a legal resident, but it does allow work visas to be sufficient evidence of legal status. Maricopa County especially is ground zero for this type of anti-immigrant sentiment since some lawmakers believe that allowing undocumented immigrants access to affordable education is tantamount to rewarding illegal activity.
In a state where tuition has skyrocketed 78 percent, granting affordable higher education is crucial for undocumented immigrants, some of whom are already living at or below the poverty line. Higher education for the undocumented would elevate their potential earning ability, but it would also have a positive ripple effect on the American economy. An immigrant with a college degree would pay $5,300 more in taxes than a high school dropout who is not given the chance to go to college. Quite simply, higher education maximizes the dividends of these immigrants.
Fifteen other states grant in-state tuition to undocumented college students, with some states even extending financial aid. However, Arizona officials are remaining steadfast in their resolve to treat undocumented immigrants differently.