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Arizona Chamber backs bill lowering college tuition for DACA recipients

(Cronkite News Photo/Lerman Montoya)

PHOENIX — Some undocumented students could soon once again pay lower tuition rates at Arizona’s public colleges and universities.

The Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry is working with state lawmakers from both sides of the aisle on a bill to create a reduced tuition rate.

This would benefit undocumented students protected from deportation under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“We have long supported a complete federal resolution to the DACA issue, including a path to citizenship, but we also know that there are things that we can do on the state level,” Glenn Hamer, chamber president and CEO, said.

He said the bill, which is still being drafted, would make college more affordable for DACA recipients whom he said “have gone through our high schools and are ready to increase their skills by going to a community college or a university.”

In April, the Arizona Supreme Court barred the state’s public colleges and universities from allowing DACA recipients to pay in-state tuition.

The court argued that even though DACA recipients have lawful status, they do not qualify to pay in-state tuition because they don’t have a legal status, which is a state requirement.

The Arizona Board of Regents called the ruling “a setback for DACA students” and said it had “a strong interest in facilitating access to higher education for all students.”

The ruling affected more than 2,000 students enrolled in Arizona’s community colleges and universities and in some cases tripled their annual cost of tuition.

A spokesman for the Maricopa Community Colleges District said the schools saw a 40 percent drop in enrollment from DACA recipients soon after the court ruling.

Hamer added that the the bill is being drafted so that it creates a reduced tuition rate that doesn’t conflict with Proposition 300, which Arizona voters approved in 2006 to make undocumented students ineligible for in-state tuition as well as federal and state financial aid.

State Sen. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills, said he’s opposed to the idea of creating a reduced tuition rate for DACA recipients.

“Anything that encourages illegal immigration, especially at a time when our southern border is unsecure, is crazy,” he said. “It just makes the situation worse.”

He said he’s sympathetic to DACA recipients and believes Congress should pass a bill allowing them to apply for legal status, while also ramping up border security.

“Let’s build the wall and we’ll legalize DACA students, and then they’ll get regular in-state tuition,” Kavanagh said. “But until that time, I will support nothing that facilitates illegal immigration because it is one of the most serious threats to our nation.”

Meanwhile, supporters believe a reduced tuition rate would make higher education more accessible for DACA recipients.

Reyna Montoya, a DACA recipient who got degrees from Arizona State University and Grand Canyon University using private scholarships, said she taught at a Phoenix high school for several years and had several DACA recipients in her classroom.

“They wanted to go to college, but it was almost impossible for them to do it because of the cost,” she said.

She also said getting state lawmakers to approve a lower tuition rate for DACA recipients would help Achieve60AZ reach its goal of getting 60 percent of Arizona adults to have some form of higher education by the year 2030.

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