Senate moves to repeal AZ law banning undocumented immigrants from in-state tuition

By: - February 17, 2021 3:50 pm

In Arizona, about 2,000 students without immigration status graduate from high school every year, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Pictured are graduates from North High School in Phoenix during a commencement ceremony on May 22, 2019. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

Arizona high school graduates would be eligible for in-state tuition and public financial aid at state universities and colleges, even if they are undocumented, under a proposal that won approval Wednesday in a legislative committee.

Because voters barred undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition and taxpayer-funded financial aid in 2006, any changes must also be approved by the voters. 

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044 would allow all students who attend an Arizona high school for two years and who graduate to be eligible for in-state tuition. It also exempts postsecondary education from the definition of a state or local public benefit – which those without lawful immigration status can’t currently access.

The legislation passed with bipartisan votes in the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday. 

Maria Dominguez, a 16-year-old student at Carl Hayden High School in west Phoenix, told the committee she will be affected by the measure. Dominguez said she was born in Mexico and arrived in the U.S. when she was nine months old. As an undocumented resident, Dominguez would be shut out of in-state tuition rates at public higher education institutions. 

“Arizona is all I know. I consider myself an Arizonan because this is the state and country I love, because it has given me an opportunity to further my education,” she said. “This bill motivates me to further my education and become the first one in my family to attend college.”

SCR1044 is an attempt at addressing the tuition equity issue that immigrant rights advocates, education organizations and business groups have pushed for in recent years at the state legislature. 

In 2019, a Senate proposal to create a reduced tuition rate for Arizona high school graduates regardless of immigraiton status was approved in that chamber but failed in the House of Representatives. Later that year, the Arizona Board of Regents adopted a reduced tuition policy. Yet community college students who don’t have legal immigration status and are state residents still have to pay significantly higher rates for their education.  

Arizona is one of three states that prohibit prohibit in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

Currently, around 2,000 undocumented students graduate every year from state high schools, with very limited access to affordable higher education options.  

“I pray that SCR1044 becomes law, because I know I’m not the only student who is asking for an opportunity to give back through education,” Dominguez said. 

Democrats: Full repeal of Prop. 300 is necessary 

Some Democrats on the panel Wednesday were hesitant to support the measure, saying that it doesn’t go far enough in fully repeal Proposition 300, the 2006 ballot measure passed with 70% support. 

Prop. 300 prohibits state residents without a lawful immigration status from accessing child care assistance, family literacy programs and adult education classes, in addition to the in-state tuition and financial aid. 

At the time, the arguments for Prop. 300 claimed that the state-run child care program “is full of illegals” and Prop. 300 would “save taxpayers millions in subsidies for illegals.”

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson, said that while SCR1044 would cover undocumented youth, often referred to as dreamers, it would leave out their parents from accessing other state public benefits. Sen. Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, also said she had reservations about the proposal because it’s not a full repeal of Prop. 300. Gonzales and Marsh voted to pass SCR1044 in committee, but said they reserve their support of the measure when it goes to a vote by the full Senate. 

Sen. Paul Boyer, the Glendale Republican who sponsored the measure, addressed that reticence. 

“I know for some of you this bill doesn’t go far enough,” he said. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the great. 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. The least we can do is provide for them in-state tuition.”

Boyer said he doesn’t think he can accomplish a full repeal of Prop. 300.

For years, Democratic lawmakers in both chambers have introduced measures to repeal Prop. 300 in its entirety. This session, Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix, and Rep. Diego Espinoza, D-Tolleson, introduced Senate Concurrent Resolution 1015 and House Concurrent Resolution 2018, respectively, that do just that. 

After the approval of Boyer’s SCR1044, Quezada said on Twitter that asking for a full repeal of Prop. 300 isn’t asking for perfection. 

“The ‘don’t let perfection be the enemy of progress’ argument is THE biggest reason why our communities continue to suffer. If we continue to be happy with scraps, that’s all we’ll ever get,” Quezada said. “Don’t let the dominant culture tell u that basic respect and acknowledgement of human dignity is ‘asking for perfection.’”

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Laura Gómez Rodriguez previously covered state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror.