Arizona once boasted one of the most stringent policies barring access to higher education for undocumented students. But a recent shift in the state could signal changing perceptions of undocumented youth.
This week, Arizona voters narrowly passed Proposition 308, which allows undocumented students both access to in-state tuition rates and state-funded financial aid.
Though Prop 308 only passed by less than 60,000 votes, the move is a significant one. In 2006, Arizona voters passed Proposition 300, which did the opposite – prohibiting undocumented students from both. Until this vote, Arizona was one of three states, including Georgia and Indiana, to specifically block undocumented students’ access to cheaper in-state tuition – making it one of the most draconian policies in the country. (Alabama and South Carolina both go a step further: prohibiting undocumented students from enrolling in any public postsecondary institution whatsoever, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
For Erika Andiola, communications director at the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, this week’s results were personal.
Andiola was a sophomore on scholarship at Arizona State University in 2006, when Proposition 300 was first passed. The next year, she received a letter: If she couldn’t provide a social security number, she would lose all her state-funded financial aid.
“When I got that letter, I knew that all the stuff I had done to go to college … all of that wasn’t enough to be able to graduate,” Andiola told CNN. “It was absolutely devastating for me.”
Undocumented students in Arizona had to pay about 150% more than other students to attend public schools in the state. And undocumented students don’t qualify for federal aid, making college even more difficult to finance.
Luckily for Andiola, Arizona State University set up a fund allowing currently enrolled undocumented students to continue with their education – it was through that fund that she was able to graduate. Now, with the passage of Prop 308, all of that is changed.
“I’m so happy that young people don’t have to go through that,” she said.
Arizona will now join 19 other states that allow for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, according to NCSL: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Washington.
At least eight of those states, including Arizona, also allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid. That Arizona is now one of those states shows just how far the tide has turned since 2006.
At the time, Arizona was one of the most anti-immigrant states in the US, Andiola said. In 2010, just four years after Prop 300 passed, Arizona also passed SB 1070, which allowed law enforcement to demand to see someone’s proof of citizenship if they suspected a person was undocumented or arrest anyone suspected of being a deportable immigrant even without a warrant.
The law, considered discriminatory by groups like the ACLU, was never fully implemented due to an injunction. But other states followed Arizona’s lead, with copycat bills in over a dozen.
“Around that era, people think of Arizona as that state where a lot of these political leaders tried their anti-immigration legislation first, and then they would later on take it somewhere else and see if it would work,” Andiola said.
Still, not everyone supported Prop 308. Though the proposition did receive bipartisan support, prominent Republicans in the state, like Kelli Ward, chair of the Arizona GOP, did not – arguing that the proposition would force taxpayers to fund the education of noncitizens.
The state’s legislative budget committee somewhat disputed those claims, finding that the proposition could impact the state’s budget, but only if community college enrollment remained steady. (If community college enrollment increased, the additional tuition revenue could offset any negative impact, the committee found. Unlike community college funding, four-year university funding is not linked to enrollment.)
Now, 74% of Americans support giving permanent legal status to undocumented people who came to the US as children, according to a 2020 survey by the Pew Research Center.
Arizona’s legislative history is part of what makes Prop 308’s passage so significant. If such a measure can pass there, Andiola said, then it can happen in other states – maybe even nationwide.
“This is an indication that there is a change in the hearts and minds of people in Arizona, and possibly around the country, when it comes to undocumented youth,” she said. “We have the support of the public. We just need the support of people who are in power.”