Many Arizona residents who were brought to the country illegally when they were children will be allowed to pay in-state tuition at Maricopa County's community colleges.
Former Attorney General Tom Horne had filed a lawsuit several years ago to prevent the Maricopa Community College system from offering in-state tuition rates for the so-called "dreamers," arguing the immigrants were not lawfully present in the country, thus ineligible under state law to get the lower tuition rate.
Current AG Mark Brnovich continued to pursue the lawsuit, but a county judge sided with the "dreamers" yesterday, saying that the federal government has indeed granted these people the lawful presence to get the tuition benefits.
"I'm very pleased with Judge [Arthur] Anderson's ruling in this important case," says Maricopa County Community College District chancellor Rufus Glasper. "Since our founding, the Maricopa Community Colleges have stood for accessible and affordable education for all members of our community, and this ruling endorses our mission. The real winners in this case are the students of Maricopa County, and each one can continue to count on us to help them fulfill their educational goals."
Brnovich and opponents of the lawsuit disagreed over what kind of legal status was given to the young people who qualified for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
While arguing in the court of public opinion, ahead of actual court arguments, several of the state's Democratic members of Congress wrote to Brnovich that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website clearly said people in the DACA program were legally present. Brnovich, citing the same source, said the USCIS website clearly didn't give a legal status to these people.
Indeed, the USCIS website is pretty unclear on what exact status is being afforded to these people. For example, consider this FAQ question on the website:
Q5: If my case is deferred, am I in lawful status for the period of deferral? A5: No. Although action on your case has been deferred and you do not accrue unlawful presence (for admissibility purposes) during the period of deferred action, deferred action does not confer any lawful status.
The fact that you are not accruing unlawful presence does not change whether you are in lawful status while you remain in the United States. However, although deferred action does not confer a lawful immigration status, your period of stay is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security while your deferred action is in effect and, for admissibility purposes, you are considered to be lawfully present in the United States during that time. Individuals granted deferred action are not precluded by federal law from establishing domicile in the U.S.
Apart from the immigration laws, "lawful presence," "lawful status" and similar terms are used in various other federal and state laws. For information on how those laws affect individuals who receive a favorable exercise of prosecutorial discretion under DACA, please contact the appropriate federal, state or local authorities.
Hence the court battle.
There were several protests of the lawsuit when it was filed by Horne in 2013, including a demonstration of young people who set fire to copies of their high school diplomas outside the AG's office -- calling the diplomas worthless if they can't even afford to go to community college -- and another demonstration in the middle of a sit-down meeting with Horne.
Several Democratic politicians, as well as the students themselves, continued their pleas to Brnovich to drop the lawsuit in the days leading up to court arguments.
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Meanwhile, there's been a push for the Arizona Board of Regents to consider in-state tuition for DACA recipients at the state's public universities, and perhaps this ruling could help their cause.
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