Arizona’s five-year fight over the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy resumed Tuesday morning, this time over college tuition rates.

The Maricopa County Community College District, which does not receive state funding, recognizes work permits as proof of Arizona residency. That allows DACA-protected students with valid work permits to apply for in-state tuition, often at less than a third of out-of-state rates.

Former Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne took Maricopa Community Colleges to court in an effort to block its board from granting in-state tuition to DACA students. A Maricopa County Superior Court judge in 2015 ruled in favor of the college district, but Horne's successor, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, has appealed the decision, arguing it ignored a ballot measure passed in 2006.

On Tuesday morning, a three-judge panel of the Arizona Court of Appeals heard those arguments, the crux of which hinged on the difference between two similar-sounding terms, often used interchangeably: lawful immigration status and lawful presence.

Arizona’s Proposition 300, passed by voters in 2006, prevents people without lawful immigration status from receiving in-state tuition or other benefits toward higher education.

Protection under DACA does not alter a person’s immigration status, but creates a time frame during which he or she cannot be deported. Those two-year periods are renewable, allowing people who came to the United States as undocumented children to live and work in the country.

“Defendants have to show that a temporary decision not to prosecute means lawful presence,” Arizona Assistant Attorney General Rusty Crandell said. “It is undisputable that DACA does not confer lawful immigration status.”

But Mary O’Grady, the attorney representing Maricopa Community Colleges, argued that DACA recipients are legally permitted to live in the U.S. and meet residency requirements.

“We cannot pick and choose which people who are lawfully present we are going to give in-state tuition to, and which we’re going to deny in-state tuition to,” O’Grady said.

The Obama administration introduced DACA in 2012 after previous attempts to reform the immigration system. The policy allows undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children to apply for work permits and a two-year period of deferred action from deportation.

“This is not amnesty,” Obama said in a speech announcing the program. “It is not a permanent fix.”

Arizona responded within two months. Then-Gov. Jan Brewer signed an executive order to block state agencies from giving driver’s licenses or other public benefits to undocumented immigrants. DACA didn’t change anyone’s legal status, Brewer said in August 2012, so the law should still apply.

Five years later, the state made the same argument. There are no other hearings currently scheduled in the case. Following the arguments made Tuesday, the three-judge panel said it would take the matter under advisement.

As the hearing opened, more than three dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse. They wore their schools’ logos on sweatshirts and held homemade signs, taking turns telling their stories.

“Making us pay out-of-state tuition is like cutting our dreams short,” said Jackeline Bautista, a DACA student at South Mountain Community College.

For the 2016-17 school year, tuition for Maricopa County residents is set at $86 per credit hour. Tuition jumps to $327 per credit for out-of-state students.

The demonstrators took their fears and frustrations and scrawled them on paper banners, tearing through each one as they walked into the courthouse.

Barrier: Attorney General Mark Brnovich

Barrier: No In-State Tuition

Barrier: Termination of DACA

They were too late. The courtroom was at capacity. “Sorry, we’re full,” the guard said, closing the door behind him.

Read or Share this story: