An hour before his first class at Arizona State University last month, Eduardo Lujan, 23, got an unwelcome phone call. The school had revoked his two-year scholarship because of his immigration status, a university administrator told him.
Lujan’s aunt had brought him to the United States from Mexico when he was 8. He lived here without legal documents throughout his childhood and his status prevented him from receiving state financial aid to Arizona universities.
He attended Pima Community College, where his work permit allowed him to apply for the All-Arizona Community College Academic Team scholarship, which offers two years of tuition at any of Arizona’s three universities. PCC administrators selected him for the award in March, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the Arizona Board of Regents sent him letters of congratulations.
From there, the national Phi Theta Kappa honor society named him to the All-USA Community College Academic Team, which is reserved for the top 20 community college students in the nation.
He left Pima with a box of medals and his sights set on ASU’s criminal justice program. After that, maybe law school or a career in law enforcement as a detective.
But the phone call from Jennifer Ash, ASU’s assistant director of admission services, brought those dreams crashing down. Lujan said Ash referenced Arizona’s Proposition 300, which bars state funding for anyone who is “not a citizen or legal resident of the United States or who is without lawful immigration status.”
Federal law says that any “alien who is not a qualified alien…is not eligible for an state or local public benefit” and therefore is not eligible for the All-Arizona community College Academic Team tuition waiver, Arizona Board of Regents spokesperson Sarah Harper wrote in an email to the Star.
SORTING IT OUT
Lujan was confused. He had a legal work permit — and the scholarship guidelines said he could use it to apply. “I felt that I had been lied to,” he said.
His work permit came from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which the president created the program by executive order in 2012. DACA doesn’t grant lawful status, but it has awarded work permits and deportation deferrals to more than 728,000 young adults, including Lujan.
In 2014, an appeals court blocked two more programs Obama created to expand deferred action to parents and more childhood arrivals. The programs remained blocked after the Supreme Court heard the case in June and issued a split decision.
Young adults like Lujan, who qualify for the 2012 DACA guidelines, were not affected, Tucson immigration attorney Mo Goldman said. Their work permits and deportation deferrals are still valid and renewable every two years, Goldman said.
The next president, however, will determine the fate of DACA. Republican candidate Donald Trump has promised to end it, while Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has vowed to continue Obama’s fight to expand it.
In 2015, the Arizona Board of Regents gave in-state tuition to DACA students after a Maricopa County Superior Court ruling that determined their work permits gave them appropriate “lawful presence” in Arizona.
“The State cannot establish subcategories of ‘lawful presence,’ picking and choosing when it will consider DACA recipients lawfully present and when it will not,” Judge Arthur Anderson ruled.
The way Lujan saw it, the decision by ASU and the Arizona Board of Regents to revoke his scholarship contradicted that ruling. But the ruling only addressed in-state tuition in Arizona, not state financial aid, attorney Lynne Adams wrote in an email to the Star. Adams represents the Arizona Board of Regents and ASU.
Matt Matera, executive director of Scholarships A-Z — which advocates for access to education regardless of immigration status — doesn’t buy that the ruling can’t also apply to financial aid. The “lawful presence” language should apply to state financial aid, grants and tuition waivers, along with in-state tuition, Matera argued.
While DACA students are not eligible for federal financial aid, in some states, including New Mexico and Washington, they can qualify for state financial aid and pay in-state tuition.
Arizona does not allow DACA students to collect state financial aid and is trying to remove itself from the list of states that let them pay in-state tuition by appealing Judge Anderson’s ruling.
Feeling frustrated and confused, Lujan said he called Melissa Pizzo, ASU’S dean of admission and financial aid services, six times. No response. Pizzo also did not respond to Arizona Daily Star inquiries.
Federal law restricts ASU from commenting on Lujan’s records, but the university also declined to answer questions about policy.
After striking out with ASU, Lujan said he called the Arizona Board of Regents four times. Debbie Sale of the regents’ student affairs office told him their legal team was reviewing his situation, he said.
Next, he called Karrie Mitchell, assistant vice chancellor in the Pima College student affairs office.
The PCC scholarship committee didn’t ask about DACA eligibility, and the Arizona Board of Regents didn’t tell them DACA students were ineligible, Mitchell told the Star.
“We had no idea,” she said. “But we will be very clear next year.”
The Arizona Board of Regents acknowledged that it didn’t communicate DACA students’ ineligibility to PCC, but emphasized that the federal law also applied to PCC, Harper said in an email.
Phi Theta Kappa organized the scholarship criteria and sent it out across the country, Mitchell said. It included the work permit DACA students have.
The honor society was aware of Lujan’s situation, but national officials there wouldn’t discuss it with the Star.
Whatever wires got crossed, Scholarships A-Z advocate Matera said everyone involved should have found a way to honor their commitment to Lujan.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility to ensure that if we have all of a sudden decided he doesn’t qualify at the last minute, we better find some alternative funding for him while we’re also revisiting why he doesn’t qualify,” Matera said.
Lujan did get some help staying at ASU, although it may be short-lived. Mitchell, of PCC, asked a contact at the university for help connecting Lujan with private funding. ASU found private donors to fund his first semester.
Lujan is thankful for that, but it’s still only a quarter of what he was promised.
Eager to begin his life at ASU, Lujan had moved away from his family in Tucson. He signed an 18-month lease in Phoenix with roommates he found on Facebook. And he transferred locations at convenience store QuikTrip, where he works as a clerk.
He has considered suing in hopes of getting his funding restored, but he doesn’t have the time or the money, he said. He was struggling to pay for books even when he still had the scholarship.
“It’s been something messy and unfortunate. I honestly hope it never happens to anyone else,” Lujan said.
He wants to graduate and make a difference. “I look forward to being able to repay society — to repay a country that opened its doors for me,” he said.
Lujan hopes to raise enough cash to stay at ASU through an online GoFundMe campaign. For this three remaining semesters, he would need to raise $18,300.