Arizona’s attorney general is turning up the heat on Pima Community College for offering discount tuition to immigrant students who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children.

The college recently received a letter from Attorney General Tom Horne’s office, requesting an explanation for the PCC Governing Board’s decision to charge in-state tuition rates to students who obtain work permits under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Horne already is suing Maricopa County’s community college system — the state’s largest — for doing the same thing, but until now had left PCC — the second largest — alone.

About 150 such students have enrolled at PCC at in-state tuition rates since the Governing Board approved the practice in February. That’s a tiny sliver of the 27,000 or so students attending the college this term.

In-state tuition rates provide substantial savings for full-time PCC students. They pay about $2,000 a year compared to more than $9,000 for out-of-state tuition.

The attorney general’s Oct. 24 letter said PCC is breaking the law. PCC, in a response submitted Friday, said it isn’t.

“You should know that Arizona law prohibits community colleges from classifying those who are ‘not a citizen or legal resident of the United States or who (are) without lawful immigration status’ as in-state students for tuition purposes,” the state’s letter said.

PCC’s general counsel Jeff Silvyn countered that state law allows immigrant students with federal work permits to receive in-state tuition if they’ve lived in Arizona long enough to meet the residency requirement, typically for at least a year.

The federal government considers such students “to be lawfully present” in the country once they’re accepted into the federal program, Silvyn said.

PCC’s legal reasoning is basically the same as that which has landed Maricopa County’s college system in court.

Silvyn’s letter said PCC is following the Maricopa lawsuit closely, knowing that whatever happens in that case stands to also affect the Tucson-based school.

A pretrial conference is scheduled in Maricopa County Superior Court Nov. 13.

The federal program that aids young immigrants began last year. To qualify, applicants must meet a number of requirements such as ™staying in school and having no felony convictions.

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.