Migrant law blocks benefits
Aug. 2, 2007
Prop. 300 denying college aid, child care Yvonne Wingett and Matthew Benson The
Nearly 5,000 people in Arizona have been denied in-state college tuition,
financial aid and adult education classes this year under a new state law
banning undocumented immigrants from receiving those state-funded services.
The figures are spelled out in a new Joint Legislative Budget Committee report
and give the first snapshot of how many people applied and were rejected from
accessing state-subsidized programs because of their legal status.
When it comes to getting state services, the citizenship issue has taken on new
importance because of Arizona voters' approval of Proposition 300 last November.
The measure's impact has not been nearly as widespread as opponents expected,
but supporters say it's reducing the amount the state spends on illegal
"It's definitely working," said state Treasurer Dean Martin, a Republican and
former state senator who championed the ballot initiative. But for the people
turned away by the new law, it has meant one more obstacle when it comes to
affording college, finding child care or learning English.
Among the report's findings since Proposition 300 took effect Jan. 1:
• 1,500 students from Arizona State University and the University of Arizona
were denied financial aid or in-state financial status because they couldn't
prove their legal status.
• An additional 1,790 community-college students statewide were blocked.
• Out of 13,700 applications for government-assisted child care, the state
rejected 86 because the individuals couldn't prove citizenship.
• 1,403 out of 11,931 applicants for state adult education, more than 10
percent, were rejected. Of 220 individuals who applied for the Family
Literacy Program, 30 were deemed ineligible.
To deal with the situation, some students are applying for private
scholarships that don't require Social Security numbers, proof of legal
residency or citizenship. Some are trying to raise money from local
residents to help cover tuition costs. Others are cutting class loads and
taking more time to earn degrees.
Isela Meraz, a Phoenix College student, has been priced out of taking all
the classes she wanted. Prices per class shot up to about $600, she said, up
from the $250 she was paying pre-Proposition 300. This semester, she will
take just one class instead of the four she had planned on.
"I want to learn so many things . . . and become something, and this just
puts a limit on me," said Meraz, of west Phoenix. "Our parents have worked
this country. And it's incredible to me that people approved this. I just
Proposition 300 cost Silvia, an ASU junior who asked that her last name not
be used, an academic scholarship of $5,000, she said. That's enough to cover
in-state tuition for a full school year. Her tuition has tripled. Now, she
will shell out close to $18,000 for next years' tuition.
Silvia lined up $16,000 in private scholarships, not covered under the law,
to help make up the difference.
"They took away my scholarship, they increased my tuition. But it doesn't
matter what obstacles come in my way," said Silvia, 20, whose parents
brought her to the U.S. from Mexico as a young child. "If I really, really
want an education, I can get it, no matter what proposition or what laws get
Proposition 300 was one of four immigration-related ballot measures approved
at the polls last year as Arizona voters voiced their frustration with
illegal immigration and the exhaustive debate surrounding it.
The measure requires undocumented immigrants to pay the out-of-state tuition
rate at the state's public universities and colleges, prohibits students
from receiving any type of financial assistance that is funded with state
money, and requires schools to determine and report to the state Legislature
twice a year how many undocumented immigrants are attending their schools.
Before the joint committee report, the impact of Proposition 300 was unknown
because schools did not check legal status. Before the election, opponents
of the measure estimated that as many as several thousand college students
could be affected. Nationally, about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate
from high schools each year.
While the number of people affected by Proposition 300 hasn't been large,
Martin said it still means big savings. If the 1,500 rejected university
students had received full-ride scholarships, for example, that would have
equated to more than $20 million, said Martin, speaking hypothetically.
"This is now $20 million more (the schools) can use for tuition aid for
other students or for other programs," he said.
For some lawmakers, though, the report does not accurately reflect
Proposition 300's impact because it doesn't take into account the number of
people who were discouraged from even applying for college or other programs
because of their legal status.
"This is the figure that's unknown. That's where the real impact is," said
Rep. Steve Gallardo, a Phoenix Democrat who opposed the ballot measure.
"What you're looking at (in the report) are the kids that were fortunate
enough to be able to afford the increase to education. What you're not
seeing are the kids who didn't even apply because they couldn't afford it."
Reach the reporters at firstname.lastname@example.org o2 or