PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona voters in 2022 will get to decide whether young people brought illegally to the United States as children should qualify for in-state tuition at community colleges and state universities after the Legislature approved a ballot referral on Monday.
The Arizona House approved the ballot referral on a contentious 33-27 vote Monday, with four Republicans joining the chamber’s 29 minority Democrats to approve the referral. The Senate passed the measure in March with three Republican members joining the 14 Democrats.
The change is needed because a 2006 voter-approved law, Proposition 300, blocks any public benefits for people who are not legal residents or citizens. Residents enrolled in the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program were given in-state tuition until a 2018 state Supreme Court ruling said they do not qualify for cheaper tuition offered to legal residents.
Many of the chamber’s Republicans objected to a parliamentary maneuver a Republican backer used to bring it up for a vote, including GOP House Speaker Rusty Bowers. Bowers had blocked the bill from a vote because it lacked the support of a majority of the 31 House Republicans, but said he supported the overall policy and had been working to gather backing from his party for it.
“I cannot support the way that this was done and I vote no,” Bowers said.
But the measure already gathered more than the 31 needed votes, and last week Republican Rep. Michelle Udall forced a vote that led to Monday’s action. She cited the state’s booming economy, the need for more educated workers and the plight of young people blocked from that education for her decision.
“We need more college educated teachers, health care workers, lawyers, engineers and a host of other occupations,” Udall said. “The youth this bill seeks to help shouldn’t be blamed or judged based on others’ actions. They were brought here as minors, as children.”
To qualify, students must have lived in Arizona for at least two years and graduate from a state high school. Some Republicans said that’s too short a time, but Udall said they will have to meet the state’s rigorous high school graduation requirements, including passing a civics exam that is the same as used to become a citizen.
Some Republicans completely opposed the measure, SCR1044, saying it went against the will of voters who passed Proposition 300 with 71% of the vote.
“I believe this policy that we are embarking on here is misguided, unfortunate, unneeded and is actually detrimental to the welfare of my county,” said Rep. John Fillmore, an Apache Junction Republican. “Americans should not have to pay for non-American citizens, illegals, giving them favored status for their trespass and invasion into America.”
Democratic Rep. Cesar Chavez, who was brought illegally to the country from Mexico at the age of 3, used the opportunity to thank his parents for bringing him to America. He said other immigrants deserve the same opportunities he has had.
“We have a responsibility to vote on something to make this state a better place to live and this county an even greater country on this planet,” said Chavez, who represents part of west Phoenix.
Currently, Arizona and five other states bar in-state college tuition for people who can’t show they are legally residing in the in the county, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More than 21 other states specifically allow in-state tuition, either through legislation action or state university policy.
If voters approve the measure, it would provide a work-around to a 2018 state Supreme Court decision that said students enrolled in the so-called DACA program don’t have legal status. That decision forced thousands of community college and university students to either pay higher tuition or drop out of college.