PHOENIX — A judge has given Gov. Jan Brewer the go-ahead to try to block policies that allow “dreamers” to pay lower tuition at community colleges.
In a ruling released Wednesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson said the Arizona Constitution gives the state’s chief executive broad powers to direct the attorney general to “take care that laws be faithfully executed.” Anderson said that includes a 2006 voter-approved law that limits in-state tuition to citizens and legal residents.
Wednesday’s ruling, unless overturned, most immediately paves the way for a hearing on whether the Maricopa County Community College governing board violated the law with its decision that students who are accepted into the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program meet the requirements for in-state tuition if they live in the county. Attorney General Tom Horne, suing with Brewer’s authorization, contends they do not.
If the ruling is upheld by the state Supreme Court, it also could lead to Horne, at Brewer’s direction, bringing similar lawsuits against other community college districts that have adopted similar policies or consider them in the future.
But Martha Gomez of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said that, in the end, Brewer’s right to sue won’t matter. She contends courts eventually will rule nothing in the 2006 initiative bars college governing boards from offering lower tuition to dreamers.
That voter-approved measure spells out that in-state tuition is not available to those who not citizens, legal residents or individuals “without lawful immigration status.”
Stuck in the middle are those in the DACA program announced nearly two years ago by the Obama administration. That policy allows those who arrived as children to remain — and even to work — if they meet certain other requirements.
The most recent data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services shows more than 21,000 Arizonans have applied, with nearly 19,000 accepted.
Despite that, Assistant Attorney General Leslie Cooper has argued that the DACA recipients do not have “lawful status” and therefore do not qualify for lower in-state tuition.
“A number of different groups of people are entitled to stay here and work, even though their status isn’t lawful,” she said.
Gomez, however, said that’s a narrow — and she believes — illegal interpretation of who qualifies.