Students Protest Prop 300

Flagstaff, AZ – It's a few weeks before graduation and high school senior Isabela Sanchez is nervous. Sanchez, who didn't want to use her real name, is not sure if she can afford to go to college.

SANCHEZ: I don't know what I'm going to do if I don't go to college maybe work and help my parents

Isabela's day starts like those of most high school students. She wakes up early to get to school by 7:20. When classes end at 3 Isabela has about an hour to change into her uniform and get to work at a Flagstaff fast food restaurant. She's the assistant manager and today that means working the drive-thru window.

SANCHEZ: And what to drink with your meal?

She works full-time and is paid 8 dollars an hour.

SANCHEZ: Ok so your total's going to be 7.49. Thank you.

Isabela says she doesn't start her homework until 10 o'clock. That's when she gets home from work.

Like many high school seniors Isabela has big dreams for her future. She wants to go to Coconino Community College and study to be a nurse or a bilingual teacher. She's on the honor roll at her high school and her teachers say she's a hard-working student.

But getting accepted to college and being able to pay for it are two separate issues.

SANCHEZ: Right now I just help my parents to pay like bills, rent, some food. I'm trying my best to save some money because it's really hard. The college we have to pay so much money now.

Isabela and her family moved to Flagstaff from Mexico when she was 10. Her mother says they moved to the United States to have a better life for their family. She says she's very proud of her daughter who will be the first in her family to graduate from high school.

Quisiera que (fade down)

She says she would like Isabela to continue her studies but she isn't sure if they can afford it because of prop 300.

Even though Isabela has lived in Arizona for seven years, she will have to pay out of state tuition. That's five times the amount of resident tuition at Coconino Community College.

David Minger is the vice president of student affairs at Coconino Community College. Minger says Prop 300 also has an impact on state financial aid.

MINGER: It prohibits persons unlawfully present in the United States from receiving any sort of financial assistance that includes or involves state monies. That could be grants, waivers or scholarships anything that involves financial aid.

Minger points out that federal financial aid has always required lawful citizenship. He says undocumented students might still be eligible for private scholarships.

He says Prop 300 also prohibits undocumented students from taking adult education classes at CCC.

MINGER: Adult education courses are non credit remedial type classes that assist people with learning English as a second language, preparing for citizenship tests. Someone who is unlawfully present really can't take the adult education classes at all unfortunately.

Back in November 70 percent of those who went to the polls voted in favor of Prop 300.

Arizona House Majority Leader Tom Boone says today's protesters have every right to their opinion but theirs isn't a popular one.

BOONE: If 70 percent of the people that voted at least in the state of Arizona believe strongly that it should be law and it is law now I would say they're welcome to their opinion but it's obviously not the majority's opinion in the state of Arizona because nearly three people to one voted for Proposition 300.

State treasurer Dean Martin sponsored Prop 300. He says Arizona taxpayers shouldn't subsidize in-state tuition for illegal immigrants.

MARTIN: Fundamentally the reason why this subsidy exists is because those who get an education are able to get better jobs and pay more taxes as a result. The thing that's going to hold her back is not whether or not she has a college degree it's going to be her legal immigration status. Once she gets her degree she can't use it legally anywhere in the United States. Therefore is not legally able to pay us back for the costs of the subsidy.

Coconino High School teacher Stacy Zanzucchi is an English Language Learning specialist. She says prop 300 is unfair.

ZANZUCCHI: I don't understand why we would make it more difficult for a student who is going to be a member of our society eventually to be more educated and to be able to make decisions in a wise and informed way that will affect all of us. It's incomprehensible to me why we would make it more difficult for students to go to post secondary education.

Proponents of the new law say Prop 300 should be incentive for illegal immigrants to become citizens. Zanzucchi says they would if they could but it's not that simple. Congress is currently stalled on reform measures that may or may not make it easier for people like Isabela to become legal citizens.

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Morales in Flagstaff.