Life is not fair, as John F. Kennedy famously said, and sometimes it’s not fair for everybody. The Arizona Supreme Court last week ruled that the “Dreamers,” children brought to the United States by their illegal-immigrant parents, are not eligible for in-state tuition rates at Arizona’s three state universities and at its network of community colleges.
In-state tuition rates are a very big deal for parents, particularly parents trying to educate one or more children, because such rates are considerably less than the tuition paid by students from out of state.
At Arizona State University, for example, full-time students who live in Arizona typically pay about $10,792 a year, compared to the $27,372 paid by students from neighboring New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, California and other states. In a Maricopa County Community College, for another example, students who live within Arizona pay $86 per credit hour, and students from other states studying in Arizona must pay $327 per credit hour.
Extending these taxpayer-financed subsidies to the young recipients of President Obama’s amnesty for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, is an understandable gesture of generosity, the instinct of good hearts, but it nevertheless rewards the illicit behavior of their parents, and invites further abuse of hospitality. Furthermore, it’s against state law and the expressed wishes of Arizona citizens. That’s no small consideration.
The state universities and community colleges had been offering the lower, subsidized in-state tuition rates to Dreamers in contravention of Proposition 300, which Arizona voters overwhelmingly enacted in 2006, making illegal immigrants ineligible for in-state tuition, college financial aid and other state benefits. Proposition 300 was endorsed by 71 percent of the voters, Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal alike.
The Arizona Supreme Court ruling upheld a 3-0 lower court decision that the Arizona Board of Regents did not have the legal authority to grant the subsidized rates to Dreamers because that is the prerogative only of members of the state’s elected branches of government.
“While people can disagree what the law should be,” says Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, a Republican, Arizona State University graduate and first-generation American from what used to be Yugoslavia, “I hope we can all agree that the attorney general must enforce the law as it is, not as we want it to be.” One can always hope, of course, but enforcing the law “as we want it to be” is a popular conceit of our present day.
In addition to being against Arizona law, such tuition breaks appear to be illegal under Section 505 of a 1996 federal immigration law. Section 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act sets out that “an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible, on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision), for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.” Further, Section 401 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 decrees that an “alien who is not a qualified alien is not eligible for any public benefit.”
The Arizona universities and colleges say they will raise tuition rates for the Dreamers at once, and many of them may be forced to drop out of school, which won’t help anyone, least of all the legal residents and citizens of Arizona. An educated population benefits everyone. The subsidies, whether legal or not, are unfair as well to legal-resident students from other states who pay the full freight of their education.
When every state is grappling with tight budgets, it’s unfair to the states to require them to spend limited education dollars on those who, by law, should not be here in the first place, taking enrollment slots that would otherwise go to U.S. citizens or legal residents, some of whom are immigrants. The Arizona Supreme Court ruling should be a shot across the bow of the 18 other states, including Maryland and Virginia where, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “undocumented” students get in-state tuition discounts.
President Trump wanted to make a deal with the Democrats to write a law to provide relief for the Dreamers, which might mitigate the unfair effects of laws restricting college benefits to the Dreamers. But the Democrats would not budge. They see waves of illegal immigration as the key to permanent control of the government. That’s not fair to anyone but a clutch of cold and cynical politicians.
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