In an age when many judges have decided their role is to make laws rather than rule on the constitutionality of laws enacted by the legislative and executive branches of government, the Arizona Supreme Court did something entirely novel on April 9: they conscientiously attended to the business that falls under their job description.
The Arizona high court handed down a unanimous ruling barring Maricopa County Community Colleges from offering in-state tuition benefits to illegal aliens, including DACA recipients. The ruling applies to all public colleges and universities in the state. Regardless of the justices’ personal views on the matter, they recognized that both federal and state laws prohibit illegal aliens from receiving in-state tuition benefits.
Sec. 505 of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 states explicitly that, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, an alien who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State (or a political subdivision) for any postsecondary education benefit unless a citizen or national of the United States is eligible for such a benefit (in no less an amount, duration, and scope) without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.”
California, in its never-ending quest to bestow benefits on illegal aliens, managed to find a loophole in the law by making in-state tuition subsidies contingent on having completed three years of high school in the state. However, the intent of Congress in 1996 was clear. They aimed to end a powerful incentive for people to bring their kids to the United States illegally; alleviate a substantial burden on taxpayers; and ensure that illegal aliens did not receive preferential treatment over citizens and legal residents.
Second, the Arizona Supreme Court ruling affirms that DACA recipients are illegal aliens. As President Obama forthrightly acknowledged when he established the program in 2012 (after repeatedly saying he did not have the authority to do so), DACA does not bestow legal status on beneficiaries. It merely grants a temporary exemption from enforcement. “Now, let’s be clear – this is not amnesty, this is not immunity. This is not a path to citizenship. It’s not a permanent fix,” Obama said in his Rose Garden announcement.
Third, granting in-state tuition benefits to illegal aliens violates Arizona law – in this case, one that was enacted directly by the people of Arizona. In 2004, 56 percent of Arizona voters approved Proposition 200 that, among other things expressly prohibits illegal aliens from receiving public benefits. The law “requires that a state or local governmental entity that is responsible for administering ‘state and local public benefits that are not federally mandated’ must: – verify the identity and eligibility for each applicant for the public benefits. – provide other state and local government employees with information to verify immigration status of applicants applying for public benefits and must also assist other state and local government employees in obtaining immigration status information from federal immigration authorities.”
In-state tuition is clearly a public benefit, and not an insignificant one. At Arizona State University, for example, in-state tuition amounts to a $17,784 a year subsidy, borne by state taxpayers.
Although the Arizona Supreme Court’s ruling applies only to Arizona, it provides important legal precedent that can be cited by other states seeking to protect the interests of citizens and taxpayers against the harmful effects of illegal immigration.