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Will you need citizenship papers to go to college in Arizona?

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Arizona's colleges struggle to enforce new tuition statute

Yvonne Wingett
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 3, 2007 12:00 AM

Arizona's universities and colleges don't know how they will deal with undocumented students nearly two months after voters passed Proposition 300, leaving students uncertain about tuition costs and their education.

The new law more than triples tuition and could affect thousands of undocumented students. Some students are scrambling to find private scholarships that don't require Social Security numbers, proof of legal residency or citizenship. Some said they will try to raise money from businesses and non-profits. Others plan to protest the law during Monday's Bowl Championship Series college football title game in Glendale and call attention to the DREAM Act, a proposal to give undocumented students a chance to gain legal permanent residency.

The passage of Proposition 300 strikes at the heart of student immigration cases that have played out in Arizona: whether students brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents should be given special status.

With spring classes two weeks away, some of those students fear they will be priced out of college. Others worry they will have to move to Mexico, a country they consider foreign, to attend school.

Silvia said she will lose her Arizona State University academic scholarship. The 19-year-old, who did not give her last name, said her parents brought her to the U.S. as a 2-year-old. She is majoring in political science and Chicano/Chicana studies.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," the Paradise Valley resident said. "My tuition will be a ridiculously high amount that's way impossible to pay for. It's a big shock to me and my family."

A new law

Arizona voters overwhelming approved Proposition 300 and three other immigration-related propositions in November's midterm election, signaling a mounting frustration with the federal government's failure to fix the problem.

Proposition 300 requires undocumented immigrants to pay out-of-state tuition at the state's public universities and colleges, prohibits students from receiving any type of financial assistance that is funded with state money, and requires schools to determine and report to the Legislature how many undocumented immigrants are attending their schools.

Arizona universities and colleges check legal citizen status, so it is unknown how many undocumented students are enrolled. Hispanic activists and college students estimate the number to be in the high hundreds to low thousands.

Many undocumented students currently pay in-state tuition. Some receive state scholarships and state financial aid. Based on current fees, at ASU's Tempe campus, undergraduate out-of-state tuition per year is $15,846 compared with the in-state fee of $4,686. At Northern Arizona University, out-of-state tuition is $13,487 compared with $4,546. At University of Arizona's main campus, out-of state tuition is $14,960 compared with $4,754. At Maricopa Community Colleges, the price tag for a full-time, out-of-state student is $3,360, up from $780.

Enforcing Prop. 300

The Arizona Board of Regents is discussing the proposition's impact and assessing admissions applications and how to enforce the law at the three state universities, spokeswoman Anne Barton said.

At its Jan. 25-26 meeting, the regents will review a draft Proposition 300 implementation plan. The universities do not know when the tuition changes will take effect, she said. Maricopa Community Colleges, which oversees 10 colleges throughout the Valley, said admissions staff, legal counsel and records staff also are working to determine how they will enforce the law.

Currently, community colleges and universities ask applicants for state residency status or citizenship but have no procedure to determine whether the information provided is accurate. For example, the community colleges ask for proof that students live here but not proof that they legally live here.

Proposition supporters said that undocumented residents who receive in-state tuition put a heavy financial burden on the entire education system. In-state tuition, they said, should be for legal students who can legally enter the workforce. Supporters hope the hefty price tags will discourage illegal immigration and provide state officials with the first accurate count of undocumented students attending Arizona universities and colleges.

"If we're going to get serious about this immigration problem, the state needs to clean up its own act as much as anybody else," said Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix. "(Students) may have gotten to this point because of their parents, but they're now responsible for their own behavior. What will hold undocumented students back is not lack of education but their immigration status."

A look ahead

Arizona is the only state to prohibit in-state tuition based on legal status, according to National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. Since 2001, 10 states have allowed in-state tuition to students, regardless of legal status, including Utah, California and Texas.

The solution, Hispanic advocacy groups say, lies in the DREAM Act.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would grant conditional legal status to undocumented students who successfully completed high school or the equivalent, at least 65,000 each year. The students then would have six years to graduate from college or a trade school or join the military. If passed by Congress, the conditional legal status would become permanent and they could become U.S. citizens.

Immigration experts on both sides of the debate said the DREAM Act would be a part of any comprehensive immigration reform package considered by Congress because it has bipartisan support and affects a "modest group of people."

Ari, 18, an undocumented student who attends ASU, will protest Monday to draw public support for the DREAM Act. The way she sees it, the act is the only way she'll be able to get her degree in business management.

"That's our only hope," the west Phoenix resident said. "I'll just have to drop out and hope the DREAM Act passes. I've been here for so long. . . . It's all I know."