Legal Battle Over In-State Tuition for DACA Students Will Go On; Expectations Low

Attorney Daniel Ortega speaks with DACA students at Phoenix College shortly after the Arizona Court of Appeals' announcement.
Attorney Daniel Ortega speaks with DACA students at Phoenix College shortly after the Arizona Court of Appeals' announcement. Antonia Farzan
Update: The Arizona Board of Regents announced on June 29th that it will continue to offer in-state tuition for DACA students until a decision has been reached by the Arizona Supreme Court.

The Maricopa County Community College District governing board voted Tuesday night to challenge a recent appeals court decision that deemed DACA recipients in Arizona ineligible for in-state tuition. While the litigation is pending, those students should theoretically be able to keep paying in-state rates.

For a week beforehand, groups like Aliento Arizona and Undocumented Students for Equity at ASU had been encouraging their supporters to call governing board members and ask them to fight the appeals court decision.

Several hundred people showed up for the meeting to express their support for in-state tuition for DACA students— not a typical occurrence, and one that prompted staff to redirect some attendees to an overflow room.

Although Maricopa County community colleges aren't the only schools affected by the decision — which applies to all public colleges and universities in the state — the district was the original defendant in the lawsuit originally filed by former Attorney General Tom Horne back in 2013 and continued by his successor, Mark Brnovich.

After the Arizona Court of Appeals concluded that Congress hadn't deemed DACA students to be "legally present" for the purposes of in-state tuition, the district faced a choice: continue to fight, or accept the ruling?

The board ended up voting 4-3 to pursue an appeal. But governing board members were blunt about the fact that their expectations are low.
"This is really a matter of giving current DACA students the opportunity to get as far along on their program of study as they can," board member Dana Saar commented. The chances of the appeals court decision being overturned are "minimal," he added.

"I want to make sure that you understand that, so that you're not investing money that you won't get a return on," he advised the students. "Fill up your schedule with credits."

It's now up to the Arizona Supreme Court to decide whether it wants to review the governing board's appeal.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Antonia Noori Farzan is a staff writer at New Times and an honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Before moving to Arizona, she worked for the New Times Broward-Palm Beach.