PHOENIX – Public universities in Arizona said Thursday they will keep providing in-state tuition for young immigrants who came to the U.S. at an early age despite a recent court decision that threw it in doubt.
Young immigrants clad in bright yellow shirts emblazoned with "Protect In-State Tuition for DACA Students" stood closely together holding hands as the Arizona Board of Regents voted to retain the policy during a special meeting.
The decision garnered applause from students who would be directly affected and could now confidently stay in school for the time being.
The board's vote came after the Court of Appeals said last week those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program do not qualify for lower in-state college tuition.
Arizona State University student and DACA recipient Diana Aguilera said if the decision stands, it would take her years to finish her senior year of college.
Aguilera, 25, said she currently works full-time at an interpreter call center from 3 a.m. until just before she starts the school day at 10 a.m. to cover her in-state tuition costs.
"I've been in this a little longer and it would suck for me as well but I feel for those that are barely getting their dreams started," Aguilera said. "That are barely getting their professional careers started and would not be able to continue because of this."
The court's decision sets Arizona apart from other states around the country that are granting in-state tuition to immigrants in the country illegally.
That push includes Republican-dominant states like Oklahoma, Tennessee and Nebraska.
The Maricopa County Community College District board decided Tuesday it will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn the ruling.
The appeals court ruling leaves a 2006 voter-enacted law known as Proposition 300 in control. It prohibits public benefits for anyone living in Arizona without legal immigration status.
There are nearly 28,000 DACA recipients in Arizona, and the ruling affects at least several hundred current state university students and an unknown number attending community colleges across the state.
"I think until we have the Arizona Supreme Court, which is the final authority, rule on that we feel very comfortable offering in-state tuition," Board of Regents Vice Chair Bill Ridenour said.
The regents board also has a 2015 fallback tuition policy that gives eligible DACA students a chance to apply for the Non-Resident Tuition Rate for Arizona High School Graduates, which allows them to pay 150 percent of undergraduate resident tuition.
ASU senior and DACA recipient Oscar Hernandez said the student advocacy group fighting for young immigrant education rights he takes part in has recently been receiving letters from upcoming high school graduates planning to go to college who are now feeling desperate.
"There's nothing we can really tell them to relax their emotions and it's really painful because that's exactly how we were back when we still didn't pay in-state tuition," Hernandez said.
Associated Press writer Bob Christie contributed to this report.