Republican Reps. Michelle Udall and Joel John brought back a measure on the House floor on Wednesday that would give voters an opportunity to a repeal an Arizona law prohibiting in-state tuition benefits for undocumented immigrants. The measure, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044, had stalled in the lower chamber for two months.
As the House was preparing to adjourn for the day, Udall made a motion to bring Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044 to the calendar, which is the first step for a chamber to consider legislation. Her Republicans colleagues tried to stop her through several maneuvers, but failed as Democrats and John, R-Buckeye, sided with the Mesa Republican’s motion. After nearly two hours, Udall’s motion passed.
SCR1044 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.
Because voters barred undocumented immigrants from receiving in-state tuition and taxpayer-funded financial aid in 2006 through Proposition 300, any changes to that law must also be approved by the voters.
If SCR1044 is approved in the House, the partial repeal of Prop. 300 will go before voters in 2022.
On Wednesday, advocates and students who would benefit from the tuition change gathered over Zoom to watch the House back-and-forth over SCR1044.
“It was overwhelming trying to follow this and the procedures,” said Reyna Montoya, who leads the community group Aliento that advocates for immigrant and undocumented high school and college students. “There were tears of joy.”
She thanked Udall and John for their push to get SCR1044 closer to the finish line.
“There is no doubt that without the leadership and courage of Rep. Udall and Rep. John this would’ve not been possible,” Montoya said.
The full house is expected to take a final vote on SCR1044 next week. The measure is an attempt to address a tuition equity issue that immigrant rights advocates, education organizations and business groups have pushed for in recent years at the legislature.
In 2019, the Senate approved a proposal to create a reduced tuition rate for Arizona high school graduates regardless of immigration status, but the plan failed in the House. Later that year, the Arizona Board of Regents adopted a reduced tuition policy.
The policy doesn’t apply to community college students who don’t have legal immigration status and are state residents, who still have to pay significantly higher tuition.
Arizona is one of three states that prohibits 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.