Judge: Dreamers can get in-state tuition in Arizona

Score one for the dreamers.

For now, that is.

A Superior Court judge on Tuesday ruled that certain undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition, despite an Arizona law seeking to force them to pay out-of-state rates.

I wouldn't hold my breath on the judge's ruling standing, however.

Arizona voters in 2006 decreed that only those with "lawful immigration status" can pay in-state tuition at Arizona's colleges, effectively eliminating the ability for most dreamers to get a college education.

This, in a state where we desperately need more college graduates.

Genius plan, huh?

MONTINI: Judge sides with college 'dreamers' on in-state tuition

The Maricopa Community College District two years ago began charging in-state tuition to undocumented students who qualify for Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, contending that DACA approval affords them "lawful presence."

Naturally, the state sued.

On Tuesday, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson ruled that it's up to the federal government, not the state, to decide who is here legally and who is not.

"Federal law, not state law, determines who is lawfully present in the U.S.," Anderson wrote. "The state cannot establish subcategories of 'lawful presence,' picking and choosing when it will consider DACA recipients lawfully present and when it will not."

However, the federal government does make such distinctions. According to the Department of Homeland Security, DACA students have legal presence but they don't have "lawful immigration status."

"The fact that you are not accruing unlawful presence does not change whether you are in lawful status while you remain in the United States," according to a fact sheet put out by DHS. "However, although deferred action does not confer a lawful immigration status, your period of stay is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security while your deferred action is in effect and, for admissibility purposes, you are considered to be lawfully present in the United States during that time."

Clear as mud, right?

Attorney General Mark Brnovich hasn't yet commented but I'm guessing he'll appeal based on DHS's interpretation of what DACA means.

Meanwhile, we are weeks away from the Regents considering a proposal to lower tuition for DACA students to 150 percent of in-state tuition, rather than the higher out-of-state rate currently charged.

DACA students must pay $24,503 to attend ASU, as opposed to the in-state rate of $10,157. The Regents' plan calls for Arizona's universities to charge DACA students the actual average cost of an undergraduate education – which this year would amount to $15,355, or 150 percent of in-state tuition.

It's the same rate offered to students from other western states who come to Arizona's universities via the Western Undergraduate Exchange program.

Regent Jay Heiler, a lawyer and former Republican political operative who now runs a chain of charter schools, says it should pass legal muster and makes sense in a state where the average high school sees only 18.6 percent of its graduates earn a college degree within six years.

"Here we are setting up barriers for a group of kids who by definition are trying to go to college and qualified for admission," said Heiler, who came up with the proposal. "It doesn't make any sense for the state,"

No, it doesn't make sense but then the 2006 law seeking to stick to kids who did nothing wrong wasn't ever about making sense.

It was about spite.

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