Arizona DREAMers Rally at UA: We Deserve In-State Tuition

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Dario Andrade Mendoza wants to be an engineer. - PHOTO: MARIA INÉS TARACENA
  • Photo: Maria Inés Taracena
  • Dario Andrade Mendoza wants to be an engineer.

Dario Andrade Mendoza graduated from high school and Pima Community College with honors. His interests lie in engineering, so, naturally, the next step was obvious: enrolling in the University of Arizona's College of Engineering and getting a degree—or several of them. 

In May 2014, right after he got an associate's from PCC, the 20-year-old applied to the UA. He was accepted as an honors student in the engineering college because of his outstanding grades.

There was a problem, though. Andrade Mendoza is a DACA recipient, or DREAMer, so he has to pay out-of-state tuition at the UA, which is, as of now, about $29,000 plus fees per year, and bound to probably get more expensive with this year's tuition proposals

"I ended up not enrolling in any class because I cannot afford that," he says. Andrade Mendoza was among a group of DREAMers and allies who participated in a rally at the UA demanding they get in-state tuition. (The gathering was organized by Scholarships AZ.) "Throughout the four years of high school, my counselor promised me, 'Hey, you are going to get financial aid, the AIMS scholarship, you are going to get all of these scholarships.' So I thought, 'Oh, maybe I am going to go to college.'"

On Monday, May 4, the Arizona Board of Regents is going to discuss making universities cheaper for DREAMers. The proposal is to reduce rates, so that they pay 150 percent of what a resident pays (if approved, DREAMers' tuition would be about $17,000). While it's a good start (and students are very grateful for it), it is still not equal, and the fight for tuition equity will continue, even if ABOR approves the 150 percent proposal.

Since the fall of 2013, DREAMers are able to pay in-state rates at Pima Community College. Undocumented students who qualify for DACA get a I-766 work permit—that plus other proof that they have lived in the state for longer than one year allows them that benefit. 

In the case of the UA, they have followed the guidelines of Prop 300—a referendum approved by voters in 2006 that says university students who are not U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents do not qualify for in-state tuition or financial aid "funded or subsidized by state monies."

Leaving young, talented students like Andrade Mendoza with their hands tied—paying 300 percent more than Arizona residents—even though more than most DREAMers have lived in the state for longer than the required one year—and without the chance of getting aid.

Among Prop 300's required documents to prove residency in the state are driver's licenses, a W-2, an employee ID badge with photo, etc. DACA recipients have been getting driver's licenses since December 2014, and, ever since President Obama's DACA program went into effect in 2012, they've had work permits, which means a job, which equals paying taxes, which equals a W-2. 

"Prop 300, in its writing, it uses the words 'presence' and 'status' interchangeably, and DACA only grants lawful presence, so the argument is that it is not lawful status (in the country)," he says. Andrade Mendoza was 8 when his family immigrated to the U.S. from Sonora, Mexico in 2003. 

"I have paid taxes, this is our home, we have invested in Southern Arizona," he says. Currently, he works as an engineering tutor at Pima. "We should be able to come to the UA and we have the right to in-state tuition."

Tomorrow, Matt Matera, executive director of Scholarships AZ, and some of Tucson's DREAMers are heading to Phoenix for a meeting with ABOR to continue making a case for the 150 percent rate proposal (they hope this will sooner-than-later lead to tuition equity).

From a Scholarships AZ press release: While 150 percent is nice, 100 percent (meaning equal) is fair. 

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