Arizona, Other States Bar Access to all “Public Benefits” to Undocumented Youth

Since the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program began on August 15, several governors, including Arizona’s Jan Brewer, have announced measures that would prevent those who would be granted protections and benefits under DACA from receiving “public benefits” such as drivers’ licenses and in-state tuition. “They are here illegally and unlawfully in the state of Arizona and it’s already been determined that you’re not allowed to have a driver’s license if you are here illegally,” Governor Brewer said in defense of her decision. Brewer and the governors of Mississippi, Nebraska and other states that have enacted similar measures also claim that allowing those who have obtained deferred action will overburden those state programs in an already distressed economy.

Public Reaction

Of course, these decisions were not well received by immigrant rights’ and other civil rights organizations, as well as those whom the decisions impact most – young, otherwise law-abiding undocumented immigrants. Several states, including Arizona, Mississippi, and Colorado already deny undocumented immigrants the right to benefit from in-state tuition, making it much more difficult for those young people to obtain higher education. Currently, a small minority of states allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid and/or in-state tuition benefits. Illinois has a privately funded scholarship program for undocumented students. Otherwise, many undocumented college students find themselves unable to complete their education because they run out of money to pay tuition. Some also report lower academic performance due to their need to work in order to pay tuition, in the wake of exponentially rising education costs. Many immigrant and civil rights organizations are questioning the constitutionality of prohibiting potential taxpayers (those who are working on work authorization permits under DACA) from receiving benefits from state programs such as higher education subsidies to public institutions and issuance of state identification (i.e. driver’s licences). It is likely that these actions will face legal challenges in the weeks and months to come.

Response From the Higher Education Community

In response to previous laws denying in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students, as well as the most recent executive orders seeking to achieve the same, the higher education community has created opportunities to increase undocumented students’ access to higher education. Some colleges and universities have taken action to provide scholarships to undocumented students who meet various other criteria. Some colleges and universities in Colorado, Massachusetts, Georgia, Arizona and other states have announced scholarships (donated from private sources) specifically established to provide a subsidy for those undocumented students who would otherwise have to pay out-of-state tuition or would have no access to financial aid programs.

DACA and immigration reform generally will likely be a hotly debated issue in the coming months and beyond. If you believe you may qualify for relief under DACA, seek the advice of a qualified immigration attorney. Remember, the wrong help can HURT!

DACA and Public Benefits in the News:

Scholarships open to DREAMers:

** The following is for informational purposes only. Please use good judgment when applying for scholarships. Scholarship programs typically do not have application fees or any other fees associated with either applying for or accepting scholarships.

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