DREAM Deferred

Young undocumented immigrants discover that even with Obama's deferred-action program, life is rough in Arizona

Jessica Garcia traveled from Mexico to Tucson when she was 13 years old. Garcia took advantage of the opportunity to study in the United States, including honors courses at Sunnyside High School. In her sophomore year, she was even offered an internship with the UA's Eller College of Management.

But Garcia had to pass up the opportunity because she was brought here by her parents from Chihuahua, Mexico, on a tourist visa and never went home. As an undocumented immigrant, she never got a Social Security number. So when a recruiter approached her a second time in her junior year, she had to turn down the internship once more.

"My ultimate goal has been to be a UA student and getting into Eller is my main mission," said Garcia, who is now 22. "I have never applied or looked into other colleges or opportunities, even though I know they're out there for me."

When the Obama administration created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Garcia thought it would bring her closer to reaching her dream of studying business administration here. But she soon discovered that in Arizona, she still faced major hurdles.

For starters, Garcia couldn't get a driver's license as a result of Gov. Jan Brewer's executive order stating that licenses could not be issued to undocumented residents. Consequently, Garcia and her friends have become what they refer to as "city bus junkies."

Garcia said it sometimes takes two hours to get from one side of town to the other, and getting to her classes at Pima Community College on time can be difficult.

"Sometimes you're on time, but if something happens with the bus or there's a car accident, you miss the other bus and you miss your class," Garcia said.

Another challenge Garcia faces is that she, like thousands of other undocumented citizens in the state, is not eligible for in-state tuition at the UA, her dream school. So she's attending Pima, which began offering in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program this fall.

But now that opportunity is threatened by Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne. Assistant Attorney General Leslie Cooper recently wrote a letter to Pima officials asking about the decision to provide in-state tuition to those in the DACA program.

Jeffrey S. Silvyn, the college's general counsel, told Cooper that Pima's board of governors adopted the policy that "allows DACA students to receive in-state tuition provided they submit an I-766 employment authorization"—which is allowed under DACA rules.

Of the nearly 27,000 students who enrolled at Pima Community College for the fall 2013 semester, just 155 were DACA participants, according to the letter.

"As always, Pima College is committed to upholding the laws of Arizona, as well as local and federal laws and regulations," Silvyn wrote.

Horne has already filed suit against Maricopa County Community College, which has been granting lower tuition to students under the deferred action program. The lawsuit is still pending and no legal action has been taken against Pima.

"I'm glad [DACA students] want an education. I'm very sympathetic, but I don't make what the law is," Horne said. "If they disagree with the law, they have to persuade the voters to change it. I have no other choice. I'm the attorney general; I have to enforce the law as it is."

Horne said the legal action he's taking to block DACA participants from getting in-state tuition is just part of his job.

"My personal opinion is irrelevant in regards to doing my duty. People need to know that I'm someone that is very conscious of the limitations of my powers and there's a necessity that I do my duty," Horne said. "It would be entirely possible to allow kids under deferred action to receive in-state tuition, but the Legislature would have to put it on the ballot and the voters would have to pass it."

Carmen Cornejo, an adviser with the Arizona DREAM Act Coalition, said the organization has asked Horne to drop the lawsuit, because members believe it hurts education and the economy in the state. ADAC members are also campaigning and collecting signatures in support of DREAMers.

"We constantly are reaching out to politicians for the DREAMers to have education access," Cornejo said.

Although groups like ADAC are reaching out to politicians, comprehensive immigration reform efforts have stalled in the U.S. House of Representatives, as have smaller efforts such as the DREAM Act.

Last year, almost all House Republicans voted to add an amendment to a Homeland Security funding bill that would cut funding for the DACA program.

Despite opposition, some members of Congress said they support those who fall under deferred action.

"I absolutely support the DREAM Act and am hopeful that we will get something again through the House," said Rep. Ron Barber, a Democrat who represents much of the Tucson area. "It makes absolute sense to me."

Barber said the House passed the DREAM Act in 2010, but that it did not get through the Senate. He said representatives must ensure it gets through both chambers next time.

"Certainly they have a great story and inspirational story to tell and I think they have been very forthright in making sure we all know about it," Barber said. "I'm hoping we can get that (DREAM Act) through."

Although DACA has brought some change, Garcia said she still feels like her dream is out of reach. In November, the Arizona Board of Regents rejected a motion that would lower tuition for undocumented students at state universities.

"The first thought I had about DACA is that it would allow me to go to school and be able to pay in-state tuition," Garcia said. "My goal is to go to Eller one way or another. It's just that nothing has changed at all. My goal is still the same as when DACA came out. I'm going to Eller, but DACA doesn't change anything."

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