Maricopa community colleges sued over in-state tuition for migrants

Jun 27, 2013 by

By Mary Beth Faller –

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne is suing the Maricopa County Community College District over its policy of charging in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who receive work permits through the federal deferred-action program.

Horne filed a lawsuit in Superior Court on Tuesday, saying the policy violates state law because it gives public benefits to undocumented immigrants.

The suit asks for a judge to rule on the issue, which could affect several hundred students in the 10-college system.

On Wednesday, Tom Gariepy, spokesman for the community-college district, said the colleges will continue the policy until such a ruling.

“We feel 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,” he said. “And that’s especially true given that the federal immigration law is working its way through Congress and, if approved, will likely make the whole issue moot.”

This past spring, community-college district officials had been in talks with Horne’s office. In April, the district sent a letter to Horne stating that the colleges believed they were complying with the law by accepting the federal work permits as a qualifier for in-state tuition. But the district agreed there was “uncertainty” over the issue, so it proposed asking a judge to rule on the matter.

Tuesday’s lawsuit sets the stage for a ruling to settle the issue.

Last August, President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows undocumented immigrants who are age 30 and younger and who were brought to this country as minors to apply to stay in the United States to work for two years without the threat of deportation.

The community colleges’ attorneys determined then that the work permits young people received under the program are on the state’s list of documents needed to meet legal-residency requirements for in-state tuition.

The district’s in-state tuition rate is $78 per credit-hour, compared with an out-of-state tuition rate of $317 per credit-hour.

After Obama’s action, Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order telling state agencies to ensure that undocumented immigrants granted deferred action and work permits through the program were blocked from receiving state-issued driver’s licenses and public benefits. The order did not address tuition specifically, but Brewer has said that allowing undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition, even if they receive deferred action and work permits, would violate state law.

“We’re accepting federal work permits as a proof of lawful presence because that’s what the set of documents said we should do,” Gariepy said on Wednesday. “A new category of people is eligible because of the president’s action, but we haven’t changed anything.”

On Wednesday, Stephanie Grisham, Horne’s press secretary, said he would have no comment on the lawsuit.

Right now, undocumented students at the state universities pay out-of-state tuition, which can be nearly three times what in-state students pay. Students have been pushing regents to change the policy. But regents say a state law prohibits the universities from giving these students in-state tuition rates.

At a regents meeting this month, the board scheduled an executive session to discuss the matter and get legal advice. But the regents didn’t take any action in public.

“The board is continuing to monitor the issue in other states and at the federal level, and regents are looking for a solution that is in the best interest of Arizona,” said Katie Paquet, a spokeswoman for the regents.

Republic reporter Anne Ryman contributed to this article.

via Maricopa community colleges sued over in-state tuition for migrants.

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