Come November, voters will decide whether to offer in-state tuition to noncitizens who graduate from Arizona high schools.
The ballot initiative, Proposition 308, would repeal a portion of an old state law.
The debate began almost two decades ago, with Proposition 300, a measure that bars undocumented people from accessing a host of public services in Arizona — like child care, adult literacy programs, and in-state tuition.
Voters approved it in 2006. Just a year after Maria Dominguez and her parents migrated to Phoenix from Chihuahua, Mexico. She was less than a year old when they arrived.
“They chose to come here alone, we don’t have any family here, it’s just us," she said. "They came here for the betterment of us.”
Dominguez is a senior in high school now. For as long as she can remember, she’s been told how important it is to make it to college. She’d be the first in her family to go.
But she wasn’t exactly sure how to make that happen for herself. She’s the oldest of four siblings and the only one who isn’t a U.S. citizen. Growing up, she says she didn’t get a lot of advice on how to pursue higher education as an undocumented person.
“In eighth grade, we always heard that there are scholarships available for everyone, but you never heard the inclusion of what if you’re not from here. You know? What do you do then?” she said.
Dominguez is eligible for DACA, but first-time applicants like her are blocked from applying because of the program's pending litigation. Other Arizona students never had the option. It’s a limbo thousands of young people around the country find themselves in now. DACA recipients were briefly allowed the state rate in Arizona. But today, both students with the status and those who are totally undocumented like Dominguez — pay 150% of the in-state rate.
Proposition 308 hopes to change that. If passed, all students who graduate from an Arizona high school and who attended an Arizona school for at least two years would have access to in-state tuition at public universities and community colleges — regardless of immigration status.
“There’s no special path, there’s no entitlements here, there’s no taxes connected to this, it’s just, you get treated the same,” said Republican Tyler Montague, chairman of the "Yes on 308" campaign.
The campaign says an analysis by Arizona’s State Budget Review Committee found the measure would have no impact on Arizona’s General Fund and would not affect state taxes.
Montague argues Prop. 300 was passed during a very different era in Arizona. He says voters should have the chance to decide again to make higher education more affordable for all the state’s residents.
Affordability is a question Dominguez is running up against a lot these days. She says she wants to stay in Arizona, but going to ASU would cost her nearly $16,000 a year in tuition alone. She’s not eligible for federal financial aid because she’s undocumented.
If Prop 308 is approved, Dominguez would save roughly $5,500 a year and could be eligible for more scholarships.
Without those savings, Montague says talented students like her will leave the state for opportunities elsewhere — and money from taxes and consumer spending that would have gone back into Arizona’s economy will disappear.
“There are immigration-related problems, but there’s also opportunities,” she said. “And the kids trying to go to college are not a problem for our country, they’re an opportunity for our country.”
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services Sen. Michelle Ugenti-Rita
But Michelle Ugenti-Rita, a Republican member of the Arizona Senate, argues Proposition 300’s restrictions on tuition should remain in place.
“Because we are a nation of rules and laws, there’s a process, and we all benefit when we adhere to the process,” she said.
Ugenti-Rita argues immigration issues should instead be addressed on the federal level. Though various measures have been introduced, Congress has never passed legislation to provide permanent protection or a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.
Arizona is currently one of just three states around the country that specifically prohibits in-state rates for undocumented students, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislators. More than a dozen states allow undocumented students the in-state rate.
More than 2,000 undocumented people graduate from Arizona high schools every year, according to research from the American Immigration Council.