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Horne sues community colleges over illegal immigrant tuition

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne attends the official election canvass approval signing at the Historic Senate Chambers at the Capitol, Monday Dec. 3, 2012, in Phoenix. Horne is being investigated by the State Bar over allegations stemming from an investigation into alleged campaign finance violations. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Attorney General Tom Horne is asking a court to end Maricopa County Community College District’s practice of offering in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

Horne filed the lawsuit June 25 in Maricopa County Superior Court, alleging the college district is violating a state law that prohibits colleges and universities from offering in-state tuition to illegal immigrants, and a federal law that prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving any state or public benefit.

Horne and the district came to an impasse on the legality of the district’s policy after months of making their respective cases to each other.

The district accepts work permits from students who got them through President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, to prove their “legal presence” in the U.S., one of the criteria for establishing residency.

DACA allows young people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children to work in the country for two years without fear of deportation.

Students who are eligible for in-state tuition pay hundreds and even thousands of dollars less in tuition per semester than students from out of state.

Tom Gariepy, a district spokesman, said the district has never changed its policy to allow for illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition.

He said the district has always accepted work permits in determining residency.

“We don’t discriminate how a person obtained it,” Gariepy said.

Kevin Ray, an assistant attorney general, asserted in the lawsuit that a work permit does not grant the student “lawful immigration status and does not make the alien eligible for state and local benefits.”

Ray also asserted that Proposition 300, a 2006 ballot measure that was overwhelmingly passed, explicitly prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition.

The Arizona Board of Regents has refused to follow the college district’s lead, but sent a letter to Arizona’s congressional delegation thanking them for including Dream Act provisions in the immigration reform bill currently being considered in the U.S. Senate.

The Dream Act was a failed congressional proposal to provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the country as children.

The board said in the letter it routinely hears from high-achieving illegal immigrants whose desire for higher education is hindered by state and federal immigration laws.

“Dream Act provisions included in reform efforts relating to higher education would allow the Arizona Board of Regents increased flexibility to provide an affordable education for these students,” the letter read.

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