Proposed Arizona plan would allow some immigrants to get cheaper tuition

Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona (file)

Voters would be asked to allow Arizona residents enrolled in a federal program for young people illegally brought to the United States as children to qualify for in-state tuition at community colleges and state universities under a proposal approved by a state Senate committee Tuesday.

The proposal from Republican Sen. Paul Boyer of Glendale, SCR1044, would ask voters to waive part of a citizen’s initiative barring people without legal status from receiving state benefits.

The proposal became necessary in 2018 when the state Supreme Court ruled that students enrolled in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program don’t have legal status and do not qualify for cheaper tuition offered to legal residents.

Thousands of young people enrolled in the program known as DACA who were raised in Arizona and were attending community colleges or state universities became ineligible for cheaper tuition after that ruling. But Boyer and other backers said voters should have the opportunity to vote on revisions to the 2006 initiative, Proposition 300. That initiative prohibits anyone living in Arizona without legal immigration status from receiving public benefits.

GOP Sen. Tyler Pace of Gilbert said the question for him is at what point someone should be considered an Arizona resident.

"That’s what I think about in this bill," Pace said., "At what point are you an Arizonan and you get the benefit of being an Arizonan."

He said he was supporting the effort because it requires someone to at least spend two years attending a high school in Arizona and graduate.

Democrats backed the measure but said it did not go far enough. They want a total repeal of Proposition 300, which was passed as the state was enacting legislation designed to crack down on illegal immigration.

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales of Tucson said the proposal should be expanded so all who live in the state can get benefits. She said a full repeal would allow family members of DACA students to get benefits such as child care so they could better provide for their families.

"We really should be repealing, doing a full repeal, of Prop. 300," Gonzales said.

Boyer said he does not know if voters would back a full repeal. But he does think he can persuade them to allow DACA recipients, often called "Dreamers," who have been here since they were very young get lower tuition while attending state colleges and universities.

"And this is a great bill, because these young adults who were brought here as children through no fault of their own, for all intents and purposes are Americans even though they don’t have legal status recognized by the federal government," Boyer said. "As far as I’m concerned the least we can do is provide for them in-state tuition."

The 6-2 vote in the Education Committee, with GOP Sens. Nancy Barto and Rick Gray opposed, sends the bill to the full Senate for consideration. If it passes both the Senate and House, the question would be on the November 2022 ballot.