With the illegal immigration issue firmly in the national spotlight, the state of Arizona has sued several local colleges that granted in-state tuition discounts to illegal immigrants for months.
Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne filed suit earlier this week, alleging that the Maricopa County Community College District has been providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students since September. State law prohibits illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits such as tuition breaks.
But college officials say their students are all legal residents of the state of Arizona under a one-year-old federal policy.
The disagreement came about as a result of President Barack Obama’s 2012 executive order on work permits, which made it possible for some illegal immigrants to avoid deportation if they attended school. Immigrants who are under the age of 30 and came to the U.S. before their 16th birthday are covered. There are roughly 80,000 eligible immigrants in the state.
But Republican Gov. Jan Brewer — who is known for taking a hardline stance on immigration — maintains that work visas are not proof of Arizona residency.
The lawsuit is a waste of money, said school officials.
“We feel that it’s too bad that he felt the need to do this and spend public funds — actually, it’s double public funds since we are a public entity and so are they,” said Tom Gariepy, a spokesperson for Maricopa Community Colleges. “We still think that our policy will be upheld and that the judge will see things our way.”
But Horne said the intention of the law is clear. Some 71 percent of Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative in 2006 that specifically prevents “persons who are not eligible for state and local benefits from receiving certain state or local benefits including in-state tuition rates.”
In the meantime, the Arizona Board of Regents has asked its legal staff to find a lawful way to keep tuition low for illegal immigrants.
Of course, the lawsuit could be moot if Congress approves the comprehensive federal immigration bill, which grants most illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship and creates more visa permits. The Senate passed the bill on Thursday, but it is unclear whether the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will follow suit.
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