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GOP lawmaker proposes legislation to allow ‘dreamers’ in-state tuition

Photo by Zerbor

Photo by Zerbor

Parting ways with party members, a Prescott Republican wants to allow “dreamers” who attend Arizona colleges and universities to pay the same in-state tuition as any other resident.

Rep. Noel Campbell said he’s all in favor of the United States having secure borders. And he acknowledged that the children involved were brought here illegally by their parents.

But Campbell told Capitol Media Services the reality is that these children, many of whom have known no other home, are here to stay. More to the point, he said they already have been educated through high school at public expense.

Noel Campbell

Noel Campbell

So he figures that it makes no sense to now tell them they can’t finish their education and get trained to do jobs that Arizona needs. And he wants to take his case directly to voters who first approved the restriction in 2006.

Campbell conceded opposition to his HCR 2048 is likely to come from those within his own party.

It was the Republican-controlled Legislature that put the measure on the 2006 ballot. It spells out that any person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal resident or is “without lawful immigration status” is ineligible to be charged the same tuition at state colleges and universities available to residents.

All that, Campbell noted, was before the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in 2012. It allows those who were brought here as children to not only remain but also to work.

The most recent figures put the number of DACA recipients at close to 700,000 nationally, with about 30,000 in Arizona.

Campbell said they deserve different legal treatment than others not here legally.

“Their parents broke the law, of course,” he said, as compared to the children who had no choice.

Campbell thinks he can make the case to voters in November that the 2006 measure no longer makes sense. The more immediate problem is closer to home.

First, he needs to get House Speaker Rusty Bowers to agree to assign the measure to a committee rather than quashing it. The Mesa Republican said Tuesday he has not yet reviewed the measure and has made no decision.

And even if Bowers sends the bill to a committee, then there’s getting whoever chairs that panel — a Republican — to give it a hearing.

Then there’s lining up the votes.

Campbell said he’s convinced he has Democrat support. But that still leaves him short in a House and Senate where Republicans hold the majority.

The task now, Campbell said, is to convince fellow GOP lawmakers that it’s in their interest to support the plan.

“I told my caucus that we, as Republicans, need to be out front, be proactive, and let the Hispanic community know that we value them and we want them to become members of our party,” he said. “And I think it’s a winning argument.”

More to the point, Campbell said HCR 2048 makes practical sense.

“They’ve gone to school, we’ve educated them,” he said, noting that federal law requires states to provide a K-12 education to all residents regardless of legal status. “And we need to reap the benefits of their education.

The future of DACA is in doubt.

President Trump has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to allow him to discontinue it, based in part on his argument that if it could be established by executive order it can be similarly ended that way. A ruling on that bid is expected later this year.

But Campbell said the fact remains that the students are here and are likely not leaving, no matter what the high court decides.

“They’re going to be here and we’re not going to deport them,” Campbell said. “They’re good kids and they want to continue their education.”

In fact, Campbell structured HCR 2048 so it won’t matter if DACA goes away.

His measure spells out that the resident tuition would be available to anyone who was eligible for DACA on June 15, 2012, when it was established. That means having been younger than 31 on that date, came to the United States before turning 16, was not convicted of certain crimes and graduated from an Arizona high school.

DACA recipients actually were paying in-state tuition until 2018 when the Arizona Supreme Court concluded that, strictly speaking, they were “without lawful immigration status” despite the executive order.

After that ruling, the Board of Regents came up with a compromise of sorts: A special rate for Arizona high school grads who were not here legally: 150 percent of resident tuition.

Campbell, however, said that special rate really isn’t enough to help for students who graduated from Arizona high schools and, despite their legal status, otherwise meet the definition of Arizona residents.

The differences can be substantial.

For example, basic residential tuition for new students at the University of Arizona is $11,299 a year, not including various mandatory fees. The formula for DACA recipients — 150 percent of resident tuition — sets what they owe at $16,948.

Campbell acknowledged that’s still better than the $34,976 tuition for nonresident undergrads. But he sees no reason for even that 150 percent differential.

There are similar differences at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

There are limits to the scope of what Campbell wants to do. Most notably, the DACA students would remain ineligible for any other state-sponsored scholarship or assistance.

“If they get in-state tuition, they have to borrow it from the bank or their families or whatever,” he said.

Campbell said he doesn’t want this issue to get caught up in the ongoing debate about border security. On that issue, he said he sides with the Trump administration.

“We have to determine who comes into this country,” Campbell said.

“We can’t just let our borders be open,” he continued. “That’s not a racist position.”

But that, said Campbell, is separate from the question of DACA recipients.

One comment

  1. This is a good approach by Rep. Campbell to ensure all Arizona High School graduates regardless of immigration status have a fair shot at higher education.

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