Judge Hands Dreamers A Victory Against The State Of Arizona

Arizona has long tried to deny any type of assistance to undocumented immigrants, including the young people covered by President Obama’s DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) policy in 2012. The effort was led, until this January, by ex-governor Jan Brewer and ex-Attorney General Tom Horne.

Following DACA, community colleges attempted to admit Dreamers, who were brought into the country as children, with in-state status — meaning they would pay in-state tuition. Tom Horne filed suit to prevent it.

Horne’s argument was that state law prohibits giving any public benefits to undocumented immigrants and that state law superseded the President’s order. On Tuesday, Maricopa Community Colleges and the Dreamers prevailed.

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson ruled that DACA students are in this country lawfully. His ruling states:

Federal law, not state law, determines who is lawfully present in the U.S. … The circumstance under which a person enters the U.S. does not determine that person’s lawful presence here.

Arizona has had difficulty grasping the fact that the federal government is in charge of immigration policy and there’s little the state can do about it. Conservative Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio‘s current entanglement with a federal court, over his efforts to enforce immigration law through racial profiling, is proof of that.

For the dreamers, the change put into place by Judge Anderson is huge. Out-of-state students pay $325 per credit — almost four times the $84 per credit rate for in-state students. It’s good for colleges, as well. When the community colleges were forced to charge DACA students the out-of-state rate, they lost 15,000 enrollees.

College administrators are thrilled. Chancellor Rufus Glasper said:

I’m very pleased with Judge [Arthur] Anderson’s ruling in this important case. Since our founding, the Maricopa Community Colleges have stood for accessible and affordable education for all members of our community, and this ruling endorses our mission. The real winners in this case are the students of Maricopa County, and each one can continue to count on us to help them fulfill their educational goals.

That doesn’t mean that the state of Arizona is going down to defeat easily. A spokesperson for the current Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, said, “the law is the law” — meaning state law, of course. Brnovich let it be known that he would be looking at his options, including whether to appeal the decision.

While the decision affects Maricopa County — which contains the Greater Phoenix area — the repercussions could be far more widespread. The state’s universities never did try to accommodate Dreamers. Their out-of-state tuition is more than double the in-state rate, and Dreamers have been charged the higher rate.

The court’s decision means that the Arizona Board of Regents will also be evaluating university policies. The Board wasn’t part of the lawsuit, but following Tuesday’s ruling, Regents President Eileen Klein said:

We respect the court’s decision around Maricopa Community College students, and we want to now read that court decision and figure out what it means for Arizona universities … We are going to move very quickly.

The move to give all students living in Arizona access to a higher education could be seen as an investment in the state’s future. Over a third of the population is Hispanic. While only a fraction of those are undocumented immigrants, estimates of their numbers in the public school system range from 2.2% to 5%.

That’s a whole lot of brain power that would be wasted if DACA students continue to be priced out of an education. And Arizona desperately needs all the brain power it can get!

Feature photo via Wikimedia.