Arizona Dreamers' Chance of In-State Tuition Rely on the Midterm Elections

by Leani Garcia Torres

While it seems like all eyes are on the states that could determine the outcome of this year’s midterm elections, it’s important to remember that the consequences of November 8 will extend beyond the makeup of the 118th United States Congress. This year’s elections could have dramatic, and immediate, consequences at the state and local level as well.

In Arizona, the dream of pursuing higher education for thousands of young people hangs in the balance. This year, the state’s voters will decide whether to pass Proposition 308, a measure which would expand in-state tuition rates to anyone who has lived in Arizona for two or more years and graduated from an Arizona high school or the equivalent, regardless of immigration status.

Proposition 308 would reverse a 2006 measure that prohibited non-citizens and those without legal status from receiving in-state tuition. In 2021, Arizona Republican State Senator Paul Boyer introduced a bill that would allow voters to decide the question. The measure passed both chambers with some bipartisan support, resulting in Prop 308 appearing on the ballot this year.

The impact of this proposition would be significant. As of 2019, approximately 36,909 DACA eligible individuals have called the Grand Canyon State home. Our research found that roughly 3,600 Arizona students could benefit from this policy change every year. With the new undergraduate base tuition rates approved by the Arizona Board of Regents this spring, the out-of-state tuition rate is more than double the in-state rate: $29,952 and $10,978, respectively. Some Dreamers are eligible for a program that would cap their tuition at 150% of the undergraduate resident tuition. Though a reprieve, it still puts higher education out of reach for many.

But it’s not just a matter of affordable higher education for students that have gone through the Arizona K-12 school system. The measure could have a significant positive impact on the Arizona economy, all while not raising taxes. DACA eligible residents already pay nearly $181 million in federal, state, and local taxes and hold roughly $618 million in spending power. Proposition 308 could increase that further.

Our research has found that access to in-state tuition could increase economic activity in the state, leading to nearly $5 million in additional federal, state, and local taxes every year. It could likewise elevate spending power for Dreamers by more than $23 million annually, leading to additional consumer spending that would benefit many of the local communities that are still reeling from the economic disruptions of the past two years.

Higher education also opens doors to some of the most critical and in-demand jobs. Between 2017 and 2021, Arizona saw a 77.6% increase in job postings for registered nurses and a 292.1% increase in job postings for K-12 teachers. As the state faces teacher and healthcare worker shortages, it seems short-sighted to close the door on young Arizonans who want to study hard and stay in Arizona to serve their communities.

Opponents to Proposition 308 say that immigration is a federal issue that needs a congressional fix. On one hand, they’re right—the continued inaction in Congress has left hundreds of thousands of young people without equal access to higher education, jobs, healthcare, housing, and security. But there are measures states can take that don’t punish young people who have only ever known this country as home.

An in-state tuition policy doesn’t privilege one student over another — everyone must still apply and be admitted to the college or university to have access to in-state tuition. And this policy change would be a net positive for Arizona — it doesn’t raise taxes while increasing state revenue with broad support from the business, faith, and education communities.

Arizona voters have the opportunity to join more than 20 states and help Dreamers who call Arizona home continue to stay there to study, work, and serve their communities. While it can’t address congressional inaction, it’s another step in the right direction.

This post originally appeared on Immigration Impact Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Leani Garcia Torres is the Deputy Director of State and Local Initiatives at the American Immigration Council where she oversees the Council's state legislative advocacy and leads efforts to engage state business leaders and advise governors' policy staff on immigrant and refugee integration.Leani has more than nine years of experience working at the intersection of business and public policy across the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Most recently, she built and managed the state-level policy and advocacy portfolio at New American Economy (NAE), a bipartisan research and advocacy organization that made the economic case for smart, sensible immigration policies in cities, states, and nationally. She holds an M.A. from New York University's Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and a B.A. in Political Science from California State University, Long Beach.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.