Voters to decide if undocumented Arizona students pay in-state tuition

May 11, 2021, 4:45 AM
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Arizona voters in next year’s election will get to decide if undocumented students can once again pay in-state tuition at public universities and community colleges as well as qualify for state financial aid.

The Arizona House of Representatives voted 33-27 on Monday in favor of adding that measure to the ballot for the 2022 election by passing Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044.

The bill passed the Senate in March. It would repeal a 15-year-old ban on in-state tuition for undocumented students.

Rep. Michelle Udall, R-Mesa, was one of the bill’s lead supporters. Speaking on the House floor, she said getting more undocumented students through college will help the state keep up with economic growth.

“We have companies relocating here and new companies starting here,” Udall said. “But without an increasing number of college graduates to sustain those companies, these trends cannot hold.”

“We need more college-educated youth to become tomorrow’s teachers, health care workers, lawyers, engineers and a host of other occupations, especially if we want to continue to lower taxes.”

Opponents argued only those with legal status should have access to in-state tuition and state financial aid.

Since 2006, Arizona high school graduates without a legal status have been barred from paying in-state tuition and getting state-subsidized financial assistance. The Arizona Board of Regents and community colleges found a way to reduce that, but undocumented students still have to pay far more than their peers.

SCR 1044 seeks to let undocumented students attend college on the same tuition basis as their peers. To qualify for in-state tuition and state financial aid, they must attend an Arizona high school for at least two years and graduate.

Rep. Walter Blackman, R-Snowflake, didn’t think the two-year requirement was enough time and said he’d rather offer in-state tuition to young undocumented immigrants protected from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

“I hope this bill helps those kids,” Blackman said, referring to DACA recipients. “But in the long run, I feel that this bill is going to hurt the very kids that we are trying to educate and benefit those who just came over last year or the year before that.”

Other Republicans, including House Speaker Rusty Bowers, said they couldn’t support SCR 1044 because it was brought up for a vote on the House floor without going through normal committees.

Rep. Ben Toma, R-Peoria, said he feared this would encourage more illegal immigration and make the border crisis worse.

“Until we address the very serious security concerns at the border, this is a symptom of a much bigger problem that we have to address,” he said. “And because of that and because of the way the bill was brought forward, I cannot support it for now.”

Rep. Joel John, R-Buckeye, disagreed and argued it’s good for Arizona’s economy to have more people access higher education.

“This is an investment in our community, in our state,” John said. “We all know the necessity of having an educated workforce.”

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Voters to decide if undocumented Arizona students pay in-state tuition