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Bipartisan Senate coalition approves ballot measure to let dreamers pay in-state tuition

By: - March 5, 2021 8:25 am
jordi santos

Jordi Santos, 18, smiles after receiving his high school diploma during North High School’s commencement ceremony on May 22, 2019. Santos is among the 2,000 students without immigration status that graduate from high school every year in Arizona. Photo by Laura Gómez | Arizona Mirror

The state Senate on Thursday approved a measure that would allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition and receive financial aid from Arizona universities if voters approve the change.

The proposal aims to repeal parts of a 2006 voter-approved law that bars some immigrants from accessing public benefits.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044, sponsored by Sen. Paul Boyer, R-Glendale, repeals parts of the 2006 law known as Proposition 300, which prohibits Arizona residents without a lawful immigration status from accessing in-state tuition and financial aid, child care assistance, family literacy programs, and adult education classes. Boyer’s proposal would exempt postsecondary education from the definition of a state or local public benefit and makes all students who attend an Arizona high school for two years and who graduate eligible for in-state tuition. 

While some Democrats had signaled they wouldn’t back SCR1044 unless it included a full repeal of Prop. 300, not just the in-state tuition portion, all 14 senators on the Democratic side voted for SCR1044 on Thursday. Besides Boyer, two other Republicans — Sens. Tyler Pace and T.J. Shope — voted for the measure, which passed on a 17-13 vote. 

Pace hasn’t supported similar measures in the past, but said the federal government hasn’t acted on meaningful immigration reform and that he has spent time reflecting on who is considered an “Arizonan” for purposes of in-state tuition. 

“I believe that the voters should have an opportunity to vote for this,” Pace said. 

If approved by the House of Representatives, SCR1044 would go before voters in 2022.

Allowing young Arizona residents with no immigration status to access in-state tuition rates has been a long battle for immigrant-rights advocates

“Today is a bright day for Arizona,” said Reyna Montoya, one of those advocates. Montoya leads the community group Aliento that advocates for immigrant and undocumented high school and college students. 

Montoya celebrated the bipartisan support that SCR1044 received in the Senate, and acknowledged there’s work to be done to push the House of Representatives to approve the measure.

“This is the step that is going to allow us to undo harmudul policies, which is going to take a lot of work,” she said. “At the end of the day, we have to remember the 2,000 (undocumented) students that graduate every year and their families. This (legislation) can be really instrumental not only for the student’s achievements but the whole family.”

Currently, undocumented students graduate every year from Arizona high schools have very limited access to affordable higher education options.  

In a video posted on Aliento’s Facebook page to gather support for SCR1044, Daisy Ortiz, a mother of undocumented students, implored lawmakers to support the measure. 

“I have seen how my children have suffered a lot trying to apply for scholarships and universities and have been rejected, and I think this has to stop,” she said in Spanish. “This is an opportunity we cannot wait for. We need it now.”

Democrats have for years pushed for a full repeal of Prop. 300. 

One of those lawmakers has been Sen. Martin Quezada, D-Phoenix. Last week, Quezada tried to get a full repeal of that law through an amendment to SCR1044 that failed on the Senate floor. He called Prop. 300 a “very racist proposition to begin with.” 

The arguments for Prop. 300 in 2006 claimed that child care centers were “full of illegals” taking government subsidies, and that Prop. 300 would “save taxpayers millions in subsidies for illegals.”

In his failed pitch to his colleagues on Feb. 25, Quezada said Prop. 300 passed as a package, with prohibitions for access to in-state tuition, adult literacy programs and childcare services, so voters should “repeal them as a package.”

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

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Laura Gómez
Laura Gómez

Reporter Laura Gómez Rodriguez covers state politics and immigration for the Arizona Mirror. She was named Best Investigative Reporter by Phoenix Magazine in its 2018 newspaper category and has been honored by the Arizona Press Club for education, immigration, political, and public safety reporting and Spanish-language news and feature reporting. Laura worked for The Arizona Republic and La Voz Arizona for four years, covering city government, economic development, immigration, politics and trade. In 2017, Laura traveled the length of the U.S.-Mexico border for “The Wall,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning project produced by The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network. She is a native of Bogotá, Colombia and lived in Puerto Rico and Boston before moving to Phoenix in 2014. Catch her researching travel deals, feasting on mariscos or playing soccer.