By Jen Riddle
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the implementation of the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. An estimated 1.9 million undocumented youth in the United States are believed to be potentially eligible for the program, which permits beneficiaries to receive work authorization and remain in the country temporarily without the threat of deportation. Over the past year, nearly 553,000 applications for DACA have been accepted and 430,236 have been granted. According to the Migration Policy Institute, 75 percent of DACA eligible youth reside in the following ten states: California (29%), Texas (15%), New York (8%), Florida (6%), Illinois (4%), Arizona (3%), Georgia (3%), New Jersey (3%), North Carolina (2%), and Washington (2%). Recognizing the benefits of incorporating these young people into the economy and workforce, many states and universities are permitting DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition rates at institutions of higher education. However, in two of these states – Arizona and Georgia – courts have been asked to take up the issue.
Arizona Challenges In-State Tuition Policy of Maricopa County Community College District
On June 25, 2013, the State of Arizona and its Attorney General sued the Maricopa County Community College District Board. The lawsuit, State of Arizona v. Maricopa County Community College District Board, CV2013-009093, attempts to block the country’s largest community college system from providing in-state tuition to DACA recipients. Almost 16,000 young Arizonans have received DACA and an additional 17,000 are estimated to be eligible for the program. Out-of-state tuition can cost Arizonans three times as much as in-state tuition.
According to the state, the college system’s policy of accepting employment authorization documents issued under the DACA program as proof of residence violates Arizona’s Proposition 300, passed by voters in 2006 to prevent students without lawful immigration status from qualifying for in-state tuition rates and other state and local benefits. The lawsuit also alleges that the in-state tuition policy violates federal law, specifically the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which limits states’ ability to grant state or local benefits to certain immigrants. The lawsuit remains pending and the district’s ten community colleges will continue to grant in-state tuition to DACA grantees absent a court order finding that their policy violates the law. According to a district spokesman, “it’s a shame the attorney general felt the need to file a lawsuit at all and spend what amounts to double the public funds. And that’s especially true given that the federal immigration law is working its way through Congress and, if approved, will likely make this whole issue moot.”
DACA Recipients in Georgia Sue the University System Board of Regents for In-State Tuition
On August 1, 2013, thirty-nine DACA recipients who are being denied the right to pay in-state tuition filed a civil lawsuit in Dekalb County Superior Court against the University System of Georgia’s Board of Regents. The young plaintiffs are seeking a court order forcing the Board of Regents to comply with its own Policy Manual, which provides that non-citizens with “lawful presence” in the United States qualify for in-state tuition. The Board of Regents manual does not define “lawful presence,” but the Department of Homeland Security has made it clear that the federal government considers DACA grantees to be “lawfully present” in the United States. If the students succeed in their lawsuit, they could gain access to 31 public universities and colleges in Georgia. This could result in substantial tuition savings for the 13,676 young Georgians who have received DACA to date, as well as the estimated 14,000 who may be eligible for the DACA program. However, Georgia, like Arizona, remains a tough climate for immigrant students. In addition to its policy preventing DACA recipients from accessing in-state tuition at all universities in the state, Georgia’s Board of Regents continues to ban these students from enrolling at its top five state universities, even at out-of-state tuition rates.
College education benefits not only the graduating students but our society as a whole. In the words of one undocumented student and graduate of Stanford University, “[people] say that [we] are taking away other students’ opportunities. But I can’t take those students’ opportunities, no matter how hard I try. I don’t think I’m stealing anything. I’m just making my own path and fighting for my own opportunities. And I believe that’s why I deserve a chance.” It is likely that we will witness additional lawsuits filed as DACA recipients and their advocates continue to fight for their right to full economic and social participation in their states and communities. If you would like additional information or advocacy support in your efforts to help DACA beneficiaries seeking admission to institutions of higher education and/or in-state tuition, please reach out to CLINIC’s State and Local Immigration Project by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org or (301) 565-4807.