The presidents of Arizona's three public universities are voicing support for tuition breaks for immigrants who entered the country illegally as children and now are protected from deportation.

If such a measure is approved, it would follow similar changes made by the state's two largest community college districts.

"I am aware of and sympathetic to the difficulties faced by young people brought to the U.S. as children who have studied hard and worked to prepare themselves for success in college," University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart told the Arizona Daily Star on Thursday.

"All of us will benefit if these students have the opportunity for a high-quality, affordable university education in Arizona, and I am supportive of efforts to make that access more affordable," she said.

On Wednesday, a day before Hart's comments, Arizona State University President Michael Crow was quoted in the Arizona Republic saying he supports "some kind of tuition reduction" for such students.

The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state's public universities, "will be considering a range of options at their next several gatherings," Crow said.

Also on Thursday, Tom Bauer, a spokesman for President John Haeger of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, said in an email that Haeger "agrees in principle with charging in-state tuition for certain qualified undocumented students."

Both Pima Community College in Tucson and the Maricopa Community College system in the Phoenix area have opted to give in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrants enrolled in a new federal program that provides them with work permits and renewable, two-year reprieves from deportation.

Under Arizona law, a federal work permit is acceptable as proof of lawful status when applying for in-state tuition at colleges and universities. In-state rates are much lower than those for out-of-state residents.

At the UA, for example, in-state tuition is about $10,000 a year for basic full-time tuition and mandatory fees, compared with more than $26,000 for nonresidents.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, announced by the White House in June, aims to help those brought into the U.S. illegally before age 16. Candidates also must be in school or have a high school diploma or GED, have no felony convictions and meet several other requirements.

When the new federal program began, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer issued an executive order declaring that the young people it covers are still in the country illegally and should not receive driver's licenses or "any taxpayer-funded public benefits." A number of other Arizona laws also prevent tuition discounts and other benefits for illegal immigrants.

But in January, the Department of Homeland Security announced on a federal website that those covered by the new program "are considered to be lawfully present" in the country.

While community colleges have lowered tuition for such students, the Board of Regents has taken a hands-off approach until now. Its lawyers have interpreted state laws on tuition differently from legal advisers for colleges.

Matthew Benson, a spokesman for the Arizona governor, said Brewer won't comment until the regents actually propose a change and details are available.

Immigrant advocates say Pima County is home to as many as 4,000 illegal-immigrant students, though it isn't clear how many qualify for the new federal program.

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