The Arizona Board of Regents voted unanimously to grant in-state tuition to young undocumented immigrants known as “dreamers” who have been granted deferred deportation status by the Obama administration. The change comes after a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled students who have work visas under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are allowed to pay the lower, in-state tuition rate.
JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening. I'm José Cárdenas. Undocumented students with deferred deportation status are now eligible for in-state tuition rates at Arizona's community colleges and universities. We'll talk about the ruling and decision. And learn about a foundation providing community programs to strengthen families, communities, and children. All this coming up next on "Horizonte."
VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.
JOSE CARDENAS: Thank you for joining us. Last week, the Arizona board of regents voted unanimously to grant in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants known as DREAMers who have been granted deferred action status by the Obama administration. The change comes after a judge ruled students who have the DACA program are allowed to pay the lower in-state tuition rates. Joining me to talk about this is Korina Iribe, member of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition. Danny Ortega, one of the attorneys involved in the lawsuit against the Maricopa County Community College District. German Cadenas, an ASU graduate student and past president of the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association. Welcome to all of you. Thank you for joining us on "Horizonte." I should mention right at the outset that I have been involved in some of these matters as council for the board of regents. Give us a thumbnail sketch of the litigation, where it started and how we got to the decision that was announced last week.
DANNY ORTEGA: Well, back in 2012, 2013, the Maricopa community college district decided that it would give daca-approved students the opportunity to pay for in-state tuition. Let me back up a little bit. As you know, back in 2006, the voters passed a law that said that if you did not have documents, you weren't entitled to in-state tuition. You had to pay out of state tuition. That was in 2006. Most recently, in 2012, President Obama instituted the deferred action for childhood arrivals. And so the question became to the Maricopa community college district well if they've been approved and they show up with their employment authorization document, which the law says that you need to present in order to get, you know, certain benefits, wouldn't that also apply to tuition? In other words, wouldn't that give them the lawful presence that's required in what we now know as proposition 300 in allowing them to have in-state tuition? Well, the Maricopa county community college district decided that these students, these daca-approved students had lawful presence in the country and therefore were afforded in-state tuition. And then Tom Horne immediately reacted and sent a letter to the community college district and said look it's my belief that you're interpreting the law wrong and that you're violating state law, proposition 300 as we know it. And if you don't stop doing it, I'm going to go to the court and ask the court to enjoin you from doing and he filed a declaratory judgment action. Thereafter, well, the Maricopa -- look, let's really talk about what the Maricopa community college district is. I think they had it right. More than that, they were willing to take on the challenge from Tom Horne and the state of Arizona and they ought to be congratulated for what they did for the students that they allowed -- now for students throughout the state, as a result of the ruling that came down.
JOSE CARDENAS: It's a fairly controversial decision at the time.
DANNY ORTEGA: Very controversial. Our hats off and congratulations to the community college district. That, of course, doesn't take into account the activism of the DREAMers that were involved in this lawsuit. So the lawsuit went on, the community colleges hired their lawyers, and then subsequent to that, there were -- the Mexican American legal defense and education fund along with my firm and along with another firm decided that we would represent a group of students, to put a face on this issue because it was basically the community colleges versus the state, right? So we had three students who were DACA recipients intervene into the lawsuit. The court was briefed by the state about why DACA students or recipients weren't lawfully present and our position was that they had lawful presence. The court was briefed, oral argument was had and the bottom line, last week and we're all still smiling about it, the court dismissed Tom Horne's lawsuit, dismissed the state of Arizona's lawsuit and said that if you are a DACA recipient and approved, you are entitled to in-state tuition. And that was the decision.
JOSE CARDENAS: And Korina, the face of the people most affected. You're one of those people.
KORINA IRIBE: I came to the U.S. when I was five with my mother and my younger sister. She was fleeing a domestic violence situation. And we came here to start a new life, and this did affect me on a personal level. It took me six years to finish my associate's degree. It was because of the decision of the Maricopa county colleges to do this and grant in-state tuition to DACA students that I was able to finally finish my associate's when DACA was introduced. And now, I'm currently a student at ASU online, thanks to a private scholarship that I was able to get and hopefully, now with this decision, I will be able to be a decision on campus.
JOSE CARDENAS: German, Danny was retracing the history. You were among that initial group of students that was impacted by prop 300 because you were in college at the time.
GERMAN CADENAS: I was, I was. And thank you, Jose for having us on the show. I was. I came to the United States from Venezuela when I was 15. My parents brought me during the national strike against the government, where the entire country was shut down for months. So we came, escaping those risks and wanting to have a better life but we became undocumented because the immigration system didn't have a pathway for us to become normalized in the legal system. So I was a DREAMer for about 10 years. And having graduated from high school here in Arizona, as a top student, as an athlete, as somebody who did community service, taking honors classes, and I couldn't attend the universities because of prop 300. And so I know just how hard it is to have a dream and to want to go to school to get an education, to do something not just for yourself but for your family, for your community, to give back to the state. And not being able to do that. So I know just how difficult it is. It was really hard for me to be able to do that and graduate with two degrees, from ASU eventually. And then begin my graduate studies at ASU as a DREAMer, as well. Having to fundraise and having to go out of my way to figure out just how to pay that high amount. So I wanted to do something to make sure that nobody else went through the same situation, because it was really difficult. And so when I became president of the ASU graduate student body, last year I thought I would pick up this issue again with the Arizona board of regents and the universities and I thought this would be a good chance to work with the board directly since I was going to be working with them anyway and to really galvanize the support from the students behind this. So back in May or June of last year, I recruited them to get on board and I went to scholarships A.Z., which is a nonprofit in Tucson, and they got on board as well and we started to work on this and to really build the movement around this and to work with them.
JOSE CARDENAS: I want to talk about the ultimate result which was the decision by the regents last week. Korina, talk about ADAC and what you've been doing over the last several years to get to where you are and what activities you plan in the future because I assume the fight's not over.
KORINA IRIBE: No, definitely and ADAC arose from the same issue that we see coming to kind of a resolution now, German was part of that initial group of students who were affected by proposition 300. They got their scholarships taken away when they were at ASU so they came together. I wasn't there but I always hear the stories how they came together and really said, you know, we need to do something about this, they were there as a support group for each other. And also trying to figure out how they could be proactive in making a change, in changing these issues, these laws that were affecting education for our community. That's where ADAC was born. And ADAC has done a lot of advocacy, not only for education but for immigration reform, for the DREAM Act, especially here in Arizona, we were also the plaintiffs in the driver's license lawsuit, which we also came out victorious in with the help of our legal team at ACLU and other organizations. So ADAC has really been at the forefront of some of these battles and these fights for equality, for our DACA recipients, for our DREAMers and for our undocumented community. Currently, we joined the coalition with German and the group that had been doing some of this startup work at the universities, talking to the regents. We have had the same strategy for a while and we were, you know, looking at doing something a little bit different and with bringing everyone together, we were -- we were able to escalate enough to where we could get the attention of the public and like you said really put a face to this issue. We had heard about it in the media, people knew about it but it had become something very politicized, especially being here in Arizona, which is ground zero for immigration, it was kind of a negative thing. So it was our job to bring the face. I helped with German to organize the students at ASU on behalf of ADAC and the other organizations and the students at NAU, the students at U. of A. We had help from all of these groups to come out and march, to come out and rally, to come and say well, we know we have the support of the students but what does that look like? And really paint a picture and say this is who we are, contrary to popular belief, we are taxpayers, we've been here for many years, we have graduated from Arizona high schools, we are involved in the communities. This is what we do.
JOSE CARDENAS: So Danny, we talked about the ongoing fight. I guess one thing people should take into consideration is that while this benefits a certain group of students, there's still a lot of people affected by prop 300.
DANNY ORTEGA: Oh, absolutely. You know, the thing that brought this legal battle to begin with was President Obama's deferred action for childhood arrivals. And, you know, all the students who applied, you know, had to meet certain requirements and, of course, once they got this deferred action, they were able to get an employment authorization document which allowed them to get Social Security numbers, and now as a result the driver's licenses but that in and of itself is not enough. You not only have to be DACA approved but also meet the residency requirements, and it's very important that you understand that you have to have both of them in order to get in-state tuition.
JOSE CARDENAS: And those undocumented students who don't meet the DACA requirements, they're still out of luck.
DANNY ORTEGA: You've got clearly, if you're DACA approved, you're more than likely to have the residency requirement. But if you're not DACA approved, it doesn't matter that you've been a resident, you're not going to get in-state tuition. So I think it's good for people to understand that they have to meet two requirements and the only ones that can meet it are the ones that are DACA approved.
JOSE CARDENAS: So Danny one last legal question. The attorney general said the law's the law and he indicated maybe he was sympathetic to the plight of the DACA students. All indications are he's going to take an appeal.
DANNY ORTEGA: Disappointed to hear him say that but he's the attorney general of the state of Arizona and he's got to make the decision about what to do next. I would hope that he would end this legal battle by not appealing the decision but even if he does, I think we stand on good legal ground and I think we will be victorious on the appeal.
JOSE CARDENAS: German, the big impact I think to many is that the board of regents took the decision that you and Korina and many others have been pressing them to make for some time and they have now decided to extend in-state tuition to DACA students who are eligible, who meet the residency requirements. Tell us a little bit how that came about.
GERMAN CADENAS: Absolutely and we couldn't be happier with the decision. We think they did the right thing and it came about really because of the work that students spear-headed. I think we were -- the most important thing that we were able to do was to put a face to the issue and to bring them education and bring them information about the extent of this issue, that it's not just something that affects a few students. It's something that over 20,000 DACA approved people could potentially come to our universities, to get their degrees. So this is something that affects the state as a whole. And I'm very happy that we were joined by the student government at the three public universities, representing over 150,000 university students, the public consensus in support. We were joined by the faculty, the faculty Senate and the council of faculties that represents all the faculty at the three public universities. We were joined by Mayor Stanton. We were joined by the city of Flagstaff who also passed a public resolution and came to the board meetings to speak. We were joined by private philanthropy, who wrote letters in support. And I think eventually, the regents understood that this wasn't just a DREAMer issue; this was an issue that affected the entire state. And we were able to show that. We had a movement behind it. And allies who were in this with us.
JOSE CARDENAS: So Danny, last question for the interview, and then we're out of time. There's been some backlash. But considering the intensity of emotions over immigration over the last few years in Arizona, it seems relatively mild, wouldn't you say?
DANNY ORTEGA: Yeah, I think, first of all, I've always said that when it came to the preferences about immigration reform, DREAMers have always been at the forefront of getting wide support from the community in the state of Arizona and across the country. I think things are changing in Arizona now, not necessarily as well as we would like it but we see a different environment, we see a different approach to the issue of immigration. I think this decision by the judge was met with approval by the majority of the people in this state. There are going to be a few, a minority, who's going to disagree but I think that this decision had a lot of support throughout the state, honestly, because it involved children and it involved young people that we've already invested in, that we've already put from the first grade all the way through high school and who have graduated from high school and have been here for a long time and so I think there's a good sign out there that the state of Arizona is turning a corner on this issue in a very positive way.
JOSE CARDENAS: Certainly, an historic decision by the court and by the regents and the community college district. Thank you all for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it.
KORINA ORIBE: Thank you for having us.
DANNY ORTEGA: Thank you.
Korina Iribe: member of the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, Danny Ortega: attorney, German Cadenas: ASU graduate student/past president of the ASU Graduate and Professional Student Association