PHOENIX -- Arizona regents voted Friday to tell President-elect Trump how he can legally allow “dreamers’’ to keep their in-state tuition -- and even remain in this country -- without actually granting them politically unacceptable amnesty.
The letter they are sending makes the argument that those who were brought to this country illegally as children “lacked meaningful capacity to have violated our immigration laws.’’
“Therefore, the case for deportation would be legally weak,’’ the letter reads. “An accommodation for them cannot be designated or disparaged as a grant of amnesty.’’
But regent Jay Heiler, who crafted the letter the board unanimously approved, made it clear he believes that any real relief for dreamers has to come from Congress. He contends President Obama acted illegally in 2012 in creating the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program which allows those brought here as children to remain without fear of deportation as well as to work.
The issue for the board is more than academic. It goes to the question of how much universities -- and community colleges for that matter -- have to charge students.
A 2006 voter-approved law says anyone who is “not a citizen or legal resident of the United States or who is without lawful immigration status is not entitled to classification as an in-state student.’’
In 2015, however, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Arthur Anderson said the federal Department of Homeland Security considers those accepted into the DACA program to be here legally. He said DHS issues them Employment Authorization Documents permitting them to work -- documents Arizona law says are a form of permissible identification for certain benefits.
And that, Anderson said, makes DACA recipients “lawfully present’’ in this country and therefore eligible for in-state tuition.
That ruling most immediately affected students in the Maricopa Community College system. But the regents voted almost immediately to offer in-state tuition to those with DACA status.
The difference is substantial. At the University of Arizona for example, tuition and mandatory fees for Arizona undergraduates is $10,872 for continuing students and $11,403 for new ones; for non-residents the comparative numbers are $30,025 and $32,630.
Regents staffers said Friday the best figures they have show 240 students who qualify.
Trump, who railed against illegal immigration during his campaign, can immediately rescind Obama’s program when he takes office Jan. 20. That would leave the dreamers without that protected status, forcing the regents to rescind the in-state tuition.
Friday’s letter is designed to give Trump a legal option, at least for the dreamers, but in a way that does not force him to renege on his promise there will be no amnesty.
The president-elect has given indications he’s amenable to such a plan.
“We’re going to work something out that’s going to make people happy and proud,’’ Trump told Time magazine.
“They got brought here at a very young age, they’ve worked here, they’ve gone to school here,’’ he said. “Some were good students. Some have wonderful jobs. And they’re in never-never land because they don’t know what’s going to happen.’’
There is movement on that front: On Friday, U.S. Sens. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., unveiled plans for federal legislation to provide three years of protection for those who came to this county as children. And Durbin urged Trump to continue DACA until Congress can act on the plan next year.
The letter tells Trump that, as children, dreamers could not be guilty of knowingly violating laws making it illegal to remain in this country without authorization.
“There were no responsible violations of law in the first instance,’’ it reads. But it also says “there were for those who brought them.’’
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