Arizona Supreme Court Strikes Down In-State Tuition for ‘Dreamers’

Rachel Leingang, The Republic

Arizona colleges can’t give in-state tuition to young immigrants covered under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court issued a brief decision order saying justices unanimously agreed with the Arizona Court of Appeals’ ruling that said existing federal and state laws don’t allow the Maricopa Community Colleges to grant in-state tuition rates for DACA recipients.

A full opinion further explaining the court’s ruling will be released by May 14, the order states.

The court released the order Monday to allow Maricopa Community Colleges students and the state to have as much time as possible to plan for those affected by the ruling.

More than 2,000 DACA recipients, commonly referred to as “dreamers,” currently attend community college or a state university in Arizona and pay in-state rates. The ruling will make DACA recipients pay much more to attend these schools, as out-of-state rates are about triple the cost of in-state tuition.


But DACA recipients may not have to pay the full non-resident rate. The Arizona Board of Regents approved a lower tuition rate in 2015 meant for non-residents who are Arizona high school graduates.

The rate is 150 percent of in-state tuition, which amounts to $14,751 next school year.

Korina Iribe, a DACA recipient and the director of advocacy at Undocumented Students for Education Equity, said the ruling will mean fewer students at Arizona’s universities and community colleges.

“Unfortunately, today, a decision was made to block access to education for deserving Arizona students,” Iribe said.


In-state tuition rates were already financially difficult because DACA recipients can’t access federal or state financial aid, she said. Making DACA recipients pay non-resident rates means higher education is “going to be almost impossible,” Ruiz said.


“We are an asset. We contribute. For this state to not give us a chance to continue to do so, it’s wrong,” Ruiz said.

The Arizona Dream Act Coalition will start raising money immediately to fund emergency scholarships for next semester, Ruiz said.


Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said he wasn’t surprised to see the ruling because his office has maintained all along that colleges and universities were violating state and federal laws by granting in-state tuition to DACA recipients.

“It’s about time someone held them accountable, and that’s my job. My role as AG is to make sure you’re following the law,” he said.

He said he’s sympathetic to the DACA recipients’ arguments because he’s a first-generation American. But he said his job isn’t to delve into policies, but to uphold the law as it’s written.


The ruling also applied to the state’s three public universities, which began charging in-state tuition after a 2015 Maricopa County Superior Court decision that said it was legal because DACA recipients had legal immigration status in the country.


The measure specifically includes in-state tuition as a public benefit only for people with legal status.

In its three-page order today, the court said its decision doesn’t close off any measures the state could take to extend in-state tuition to Arizona high school graduates who don’t have legal immigration documents.


Matt Hasson, spokesman for the Maricopa County Community Colleges District, said the ruling was disappointing. The district is reviewing the ruling with outside attorneys to make sure it takes the “appropriate steps” to comply, Hasson said.


The Arizona Board of Regents will no longer offer in-state tuition to DACA students “effective immediately,” board chairman Bill Ridenour said in a statement.


The board wants to provide access to higher education for all students, within the confines of federal and state laws, he said. And the board hopes Congress will act to provide lawful status for dreamers, he said.

The universities will work with currently enrolled DACA students to help them understand what the ruling means for their tuition, Ridenour said.