PHOENIX – Public universities in Arizona said Thursday they will not stop offering in-state tuition for eligible immigrants granted deferred deportation status, despite recent threats of a lawsuit from the state attorney general.
Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein sent a letter to the state attorney general's office stressing that abruptly ending in-state tuition for those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program would have "a devastating impact on hundreds of innocent young people."
The letter came after the Arizona Court of Appeals overturned a 2015 decision by a lower-court judge saying DACA recipients were considered legally present in the U.S. under federal immigration law and therefore qualified for state benefits.
The Maricopa County Community College District board said it will ask the Arizona Supreme Court to overturn the latest ruling.
If the state Supreme Court reverses the decision and allows in-state tuition rates at the community college, it would mean treating one set of DACA students differently from another because "students who have chosen to attend an Arizona public university will be denied in-state tuition while their community college counterparts are not," Klein said.
The Board of Regents, which oversees three public universities and other colleges, had voted soon after the decision to allow in-state costs to stand while the issue remains under court review.
The attorney general's office told Klein in its own letter in July that it demanded an explanation of how the board thought its position wasn't violating Arizona law. The office also threatened to take potential legal action.
In a statement to The Associated Press Thursday, Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the board's response is disappointing because it received a policy argument instead of a legal analysis.
"While we should all welcome a broader conversation about making college more affordable for everyone, tuition policies must be consistent with the law and respect Arizona voters. We're evaluating all options," the statement said.
Klein also wrote that many DACA students are Mexican and abruptly ending in-state tuition for some but not all of them will impede the state's attempts to improve relations with the country. She said the move will "undoubtedly be seen by our Southern neighbors as unnecessarily cruel and illogical."
The Trump administration has stepped up immigration enforcement and says it has not decided the fate of former President Barack Obama's DACA program.
Klein said a 2015 fallback tuition policy that gives eligible DACA students a chance to apply for the non-residential tuition rate for Arizona high school graduates, which allows them to pay 150 percent of undergraduate resident tuition, could help some but it would not eliminate or minimize the disruption.
"The reality is that most DACA students will have to end or seriously curtail their college education because they will not be able to afford attendance at our universities," Klein said.