Arizona "Dreamers" Campaign for In-State Tuition

A small group of undocumented immigrants who hope to attend Arizona State University and their allies canvassed the school's Tempe campus Tuesday passing out fliers and drumming up public support for allowing students who came to the United States as children to pay resident tuition rates.

"We're here to fight for tuition equality," said Katia Ceron, 20, whose parents brought her to Arizona illegally when she was 4. "We want to come to school here and we believe we have the right to pay like any other resident."

She and her comrades handed out contact information for members of the Arizona Board of Regents and asked passersby to voice their support via Twitter.

The Regents will discuss a proposal next week that would allow students who qualify for work permits under President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to pay 150 percent of the Arizona resident rate. Since 2006, when voters passed a ballot measure prohibiting undocumented immigrants from paying in-state prices, such students have been required to pay non-resident tuition, which amounts to about 300 percent.

See also: -Lower Tuition for "Dreamers" Won't Cost Taxpayers, Regents Chairman Says -Arizona AG Sticking With Lawsuit Against In-State Tuition for DACA Recipients

Three campaigners carried a red and white banner that read, "150% Will Not Get Us Through the Door." Others held signs painted with slogans like "Tuition Equity = 100%" and "Sun Devils Support Dreamers."

With dreams of becoming a lawyer, Ceran, a petite woman with a heart-shaped face and a thick, brown braid, wants to enroll at ASU next year after completing her associate's degree at Glendale Community College. She's not sure, though, if she'll be able to pay.

"It's not fair not to let me study just because I'm missing a document," she said. She didn't know that she was undocumented until her older brother tried to apply for college and learned he'd have to pay out of pocket because, without papers, he didn't qualify for most scholarships or loans. "I'm a totally regular person -- just like all my neighbors in Phoenix -- but then they ask for documentation and everything changes," she said.

Immigrant rights activists argue that students like Ceron shouldn't be prohibited from paying resident tuition under state law because they are in the country legally. Under DACA, rolled out in 2012, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants immigrants who came to the country before their 16th birthdays temporary permission to stay if they graduated from high school and don't have a criminal record, among other things.

Shortly after the program was announced, however, then-governor Jan Brewer issued an executive order declaring that qualifying for DACA would not earn immigrants access to public benefits, such as in-state tuition. Now, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich is suing the Maricopa County Community College system for offering resident prices to undocumented immigrants who qualify for DACA.

Mark Killian, chair of the State Board of Regents, told New Times the Regents sympathize with the immigrants' plight but want to avoid getting entangled in a lawsuit. The board arrived at the 150 percent proposal by calculating how much it cost the universities to educate each student. While the university makes profit off of non-resident tuition, this new proposal would allow DACA recipients to simply cover their own costs without a taxpayer subsidy.

"Arizona voters voted not to subsidize these students," Killian said. "Unless the voters change the law, as far as I'm concerned, there's really no reason to advocate for offering in-state tuition."

The group of protesters eventually settled in front of the Memorial Union building at the center of campus. They laid their signs on the ground and sat cross-legged on the cement, blocking the doors.

Karina Ruiz, 30, spread her biochemistry book on her lap and tried to study as the crowd walked around her. She's graduating from ASU in May after 12 years.

"The first three years were easy," she said. Voters had not yet passed Proposition 300, which prohibited undocumented immigrants from paying in-state tuition. Paying out-of-state rates, the last two semesters took her nine years to complete because she had to take one class at a time.

The cost to attend ASU full time is $10,157 for Arizona residents. For Ruiz, an undocumented immigrant, it's $24,503.

Ruiz tied a giant price tag to her backpack.

"Education: Inaccessible Prices," it read.

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Elizabeth Stuart
Contact: Elizabeth Stuart