States Step in as Federal Action on Dreamers Goes Nowhere


​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Aired December 8, 2022

With the federal Dream Act in limbo for over 20 years now, states have stepped up with their own solutions to help Dreamers, the population of young immigrants brought to the United States as children. Political activist Tyler Montague and ACE’s Derrick Anderson visit the podcast to talk about Arizona’s newly passed Proposition 308, which gives in-state tuition for non-citizen residents of the state. The hosts also break down recent higher education policy developments, including government funding, the Biden student loan forgiveness plan, a new report on college financial aid award letters, and more.  

Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Arizona Proposition 308: ‘Dreamer’ Tuition Measure Passes as Final Votes Tallied
Arizona Republic (sub. req.) | Nov. 14, 2022

Proposition 308

Yes on 308

Best Unpaid Political Strategist
Phoenix New Times (2014)

Arizona Proposition 300, Prohibit Education Financial Assistance and In-State Tuition for Non-Citizens Measure

From the introduction:

Senators Draft Bipartisan Framework To Legalize DACA Recipients and Extend Trump-era Border Policy
CNN | Dec. 5, 2022

Lawmakers Labor to Break Impasses Stalling Massive Spending Bill
Politico | Dec. 6, 2022

GAO Blasts Colleges on Aid Offers
Inside Higher Ed | Dec. 6, 2022

Supreme Court to Hear Student Debt Forgiveness Case
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Dec. 1, 2022

Are the U.S. News College Rankings Finally Going to Die?
The New York Times (sub. req.) | Nov. 22, 2022

Hosts and Guests
Tyler  Montague - Activist and Consultant - Guest
Tyler Montague
Activist and Consultant

 Read this episode's transcript

Jonathan Fansmith: Hello and welcome to dotEDU, the Higher Education Policy podcast from the American Council on Education. A little bit later in the episode, we're going to be joined by Tyler Montague, Chairman of the Yes on 308 campaign, as well as Derrick Anderson, ACE's Senior Vice President for Learning and Engagement. But before we get to our exceptional guests, I am joined by my exceptional co-hosts, as always, Sarah Spreitzer and Mushtaq Gunja. How are you both doing today?

Mushtaq Gunja: I'm doing great. Happy holidays to both of you.

Jonathan Fansmith: Oh, thank you.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, in my mind, I'm already sipping hot chocolate next to the Christmas tree.

Mushtaq Gunja: I mean, our audience can't see it, but it looks like you might have hot chocolate there at your desk, Sarah. That would not be unusual for you.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's true.

Jonathan Fansmith: Speaking of you, Sarah, and things that are going on and our guests for today, I mentioned that Tyler Montague is the chairman of the Yes on 308 campaign. 308 is Proposition 308, recently passed on the Arizona election on the last election day back in November. And it has addressed a subject that is near and dear to your heart, DACA and DREAMers. And was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what Proposition 308 is before we get into that with our guests, but then also what we're hearing about possibility of action around DREAMers here in Washington.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yea, and it's heartening to see something immigration related actually pass, because I don't get to see that very often on the federal level, actually, at least not for the past few years. But Proposition 308, since the federal government has been kind of unable to move on issues related to DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or for our DREAMers who are very young people who came to the US and really not having known any other country and have grown up in the US, but unfortunately do not have immigration status, Proposition 308 allows DREAMers who live in Arizona, who attend, I believe, two years of a high school within the state of Arizona to qualify for in-state tuition. And this is really important because previously Arizona had actually blocked or done things to try and discourage undocumented or these DREAMer students from attending their colleges. I think many of them who could afford college or who decided to pursue post-secondary education actually had to leave the state. So this is a big shift for Arizona and I think it's something that's very hopeful.

And on the federal side, we're in the lame duck, we're waiting to see what Congress is going to do to wrap up the year but there is a push by immigration advocates to try and do something around DACA because obviously, we've had a few court cases recently that have found DACA to be illegal, specifically around the way it was created by the executive branch. And so it is very important that Congress take action and actually put DACA or something to protect our DREAMers into statute so that they don't have to live under that uncertainty, wondering if the program is going to end. So it'll be great to talk to Derrick and Tyler and hear about how they were able to accomplish this and what it means for Arizona.

Mushtaq Gunja: And Sarah, this next month is crucial, right, because I think I saw Speaker McCarthy or soon-to-be, maybe, Speaker McCarthy signal that once the Republicans took the House in January that there was going to be no deal on anything sort of immigration related unless the border was secured, which I'm sure that nobody will ever be able to secure the border to the satisfaction of this set of Republicans in Congress. So this lame duck seems like if there's going to be something that's going to pass, it's going to have to happen in the next couple of weeks.

Sarah Spreitzer: And just yesterday, Mushtaq, we saw that Senators Sinema and Tillis, Senator Tillis is retiring from the Senate, that they are circulating some sort of immigration framework that would provide citizenship for 2 million DREAMers or those people that came here at a very young age, as well as around $25 billion for border security. And I think for soon-to-be Speaker McCarthy or Congressman McCarthy, there will never be enough to secure the border. I think what he's saying is that, "We're just not even going to take up immigration." And so you're right, this is kind of our last chance to get something accomplished.

Jonathan Fansmith: For the next two years anyway.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. Hey, speaking of the lame duck, Jon, am I right that the government's going to run out of funding on December 16th, is it? Isn't it next week?

Jonathan Fansmith: It is. It is currently scheduled to run out of funding on December 16th, I will tell you that. I don't think that that will actually happen. No one seems to think that that will actually happen. But right now, that is the deadline Congress has set for themselves to finalize funding. I feel like a broken record on this subject. They are not making progress in meeting that deadline so they will likely do what they often do, which is give themselves more time. The big question right now in DC is really how much more time will be necessary because they haven't answered the simplest questions you need to answer to do the funding bills, which is to say, "How much money do we want to spend overall?" And then related to that, "How much of that will go to defense and how much of that will go to everything else?" And that is the annual fight.

What is the total amount? The President has asked for around $1.7 trillion in total spending. Democrats in the Congress would actually like to go above that for a variety of reasons. They have some things they would like added that were not considered at the time of the President's original request. But even beyond that, there was always a big split with both parties always support large increases for defense spending. That's bipartisanly popular. What is less bipartisanly popular is how much the other side of it goes. And Democrats have traditionally wanted equity between the two levels. Republicans have asserted that certainly in the last two years there's been a lot of spending particularly on domestic priorities outside of the normal funding streams and that there should be some accounting for that, that additional funding has gone out in that area. Again, Democrats somewhat resistant to that messaging.

So still big picture discussions. A lot of times, once those two questions are answered, the rest of it can fall into place relatively quickly. Lots of little policy issues, little in terms of the overall scope, not little in terms of the intensity with which they're debated, but as of today, Tuesday, December 6th, we don't have any clarity on those top lines. Proposals are exchanged. They're so far apart. And as you pointed out at the start, they are beginning to run out of time to resolve that. Nobody thinks the government will shut down, but people are beginning to get a little bit anxious, understandably, about where this might wind up and when in particular it might wind up.

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, the new Congress starts January 3rd. So when you say that they're running out of time, it's not in previous years that they're still in the same Congress. I mean to start a new Congress, it's a little harder, especially as Republicans' taking over the House. But Jon, I've heard from a couple member institutions the big question on a lot of people's minds is whether or not the community projects or aka earmarks will stay in the Omnibus if they're able to pass it. What do you think?

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah, and there's a reason you're hearing from institutions, right? Before earmarks went away, colleges and universities were the biggest recipients, both in terms of the number of earmarks and the amount of money. The new, whatever you're calling it, House and Senate have different names for community funded projects, directed spending. Colleges and universities, again, do really, really well in the rounds we've seen so far. Colleges and universities have been tremendous beneficiaries. So we have an interest in seeing those included. If they do a regular Omnibus bill, that's the name for when they put all 12 different appropriations funding bills together, if they do that, they will be included. We know that they have reserved places for different earmarks. They've been negotiating those earmarks. They will be part of a final package. The one negative possible outcome is if they absolutely cannot get to agreement, particularly if we get into the new Congress where there's a large portion of particularly conservative members of the House Republican Caucus who hate Omnibus spending, they hate bundling it together.

If we get to that point, there may be no possibility of progress on an actual spending bill where they figure things out. And the fallback is what's called a year-long continuing resolution. Essentially, Congress just says, "We can't figure this out, so we're going to fund everything at the same level we did last year. We're not going to change anything, we're just going to carry it forward another year." If you do that, there's no earmarks attached to that. I mean, certainly for our members, that would be a loss. For lots of members of Congress who see those as valuable things they can bring back to district, demonstrate how they're working on behalf of their constituents, losing that is also a big loss to them. So it's one of the things we're hoping will get people to the finish line, doing an actual deal, resolving those levels. But again, we'll wait and see. It's still those big picture things that are holding everything up.

Mushtaq Gunja: Hey, Jon, give me 30 seconds on the debt ceiling.

Jonathan Fansmith: The likelihood of it happening or what the debt ceiling is?

Mushtaq Gunja: No, no, no, no. Are we going to raise the debt ceiling in this lame duck? Because if we don't, I mean God, it feels like we're going to be headed toward just complete disaster in the next Congress.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah and I think I don't need 30 seconds. We're probably headed towards disaster in the next Congress. They are not going to do it in the lame duck. They would need to do it through reconciliation for a variety of reasons too boring to go into. That's not a palatable process for Democrats. It's certainly not a palatable process for Republicans. They have some time. The expectation is that the current will hit the limit probably in July of next year. All that's really dependent on the economy. If the economy changes from where it is currently, that could accelerate. It could also fall further and further back. So we don't know for sure, but July is sort of the target. I think we're going to go into a debt ceiling debate with the divided Congress, and that is usually not a recipe for good policymaking or timely renewals of the debt limit.

Mushtaq Gunja: Hey, Jon, I think I saw a GAO report this morning, criticizing sort of higher education institutions on their financial aid award letters. I know it's an area of interest for ACE. I know you've been spending a little bit of time on this. You want to talk a little bit about where we are award letter wise?

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah, and people could probably be forgiven for saying, "Well, I've heard about this before," right? Because it's something that has been talked about for a long time and it really is this idea of the public, and there's been lots of examples, there's been previous reports that it can be very, very hard, even for people like us who spend a lot of time thinking about this, to look at two different aid award letters and say, "I understand exactly what my obligation to pay is. I understand how these two offers are similar or how they're different." And the GAO, at the request of Virginia Foxx, who is currently the ranking member on the House Education Labor Committee, did an investigation. They reviewed award letters from a little under 200 institutions, and they essentially examined those letters against what the Department of Education has published as 10 principles for award letters.

And what they found was not encouraging for institutions. I think they found something like only 3% of institutions even used nine of the 10, and none of them used all 10 in their award letters. So in some ways, that is a pretty damning outcome. Honestly, though, that's not a surprise. I don't think most people here were surprised to see that data. And in fact, something we've been working on for a while. NASFA, the student financial aid administrators, have been doing a lot of work in this area for a long time, and they have partnered with us and some other associations on the Paying for College Transparency Initiative. This is an effort to understand what those core principles should be. Really encourage institutions to understand what they are doing, what they're putting out in those award letters, what is valuable and beneficial for students, making sure they're clear and comparable and transparent to students so they know exactly what they're facing.

And we're going to push really hard on that. We want to push our institutions, frankly, to raise their level in this area and ensure that they're doing the right thing by students. It's Washington. That GAO report was requested by a member of Congress. We're talking about process. We're talking about improvement on campuses. There's a political dimension to this too. There have been a legislation that has been proposed that would set up a federal form, a single federal form, or that would set up varieties of federal forms. A lot of times, this is the policy problems we run into. A single federal solution may work very, very well in some circumstances. It rarely works well in all circumstances.

So part of what we're trying to do is simply just educate policymakers that, "There are things that should be fundamental to this. You should be using the same terms. You should have a clear understanding of what those terms mean. You should be able to compare those terms across award layers." But in order of saying how you organize them or in what order you put them, a graduate student needs a very different aid offer than an undergraduate student. Putting Pell Grant as zero for a grad student is more likely to confuse them as to what their circumstances are and what they should or shouldn't get than simply leaving that off their form.

So a lot to consider in that, a lot of legislative proposals, a lot of things we'll work on. This is going to get a lot of attention, especially in this Congress because this is a bipartisan issue. There's concern on both sides. It's an issue where there's a lot of interest in doing it. And given, I mean, again, broken record, public and legislator focus on affordability, this is going to be an area for a lot of attention where there's a possibility of work getting done. So you'll be hearing a lot about this.

Sarah Spreitzer: And Jon, I think you mean next Congress, right? The 118th Congress?

Jonathan Fansmith: Next Congress, yes.

Sarah Spreitzer: Not actually in the lame duck. But this actually goes to-

Jonathan Fansmith: No.

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, we've talked a lot about the fact that college cost is going to be on policymakers' agenda for the next Congress in a tie right with student loan forgiveness. And there was also news this week or last week about the Biden student loan forgiveness plan and what's going to happen next year.

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah, and just in brief, because I know we've been sort of keeping people posted on this as it's developed, but there were multiple court challenges to the Biden Administration's proposal. Two of those were upheld by appellate courts. They put injunctions in terms of granting relief and in one case of even processing the applications. The administration has appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has acknowledged or has accepted that they will review that. They have not lifted the injunction. So the plan is still on hold until the Supreme Court weighs in. As we record, the Biden Administration had asked that of the one case that the Supreme Court had agreed to hear that they also consider simultaneously the other case, really just to make sure that all the challenges to the policy are heard at one time and considered as a whole.

The Supreme Court has not yet ruled whether they will hear both cases as we record this. Even if they do, what we are talking about is a hearing next spring. Probably a ruling, even if they do it on an expedited basis, not immediately thereafter. So it will take a little time. So the long and the short of it is at least the Biden Administration's policy is on hold for the next four to six months at the earliest really.

Mushtaq Gunja: If I had to guess, I would think that if they hear arguments, scheduled for March, am I right, that they might be able to come up with a ruling at the end of the term in June. In some ways, the issues aren't that complicated so the briefing can be done on some sort of expedited schedule. And am I right, Jon and Sarah, that the Biden Administration said, "That until that case is resolved, that our loan repayments will not start for our students and our borrowers until the case is sort of set?" Is that right?

Jonathan Fansmith: Yeah, and that was such a good point, Mushtaq. Thanks for bringing that up. One of the things, as the court challenge has started to move forward and freeze the program was a real push to say, "Well, if we don't know where forgiveness stands, it's frankly unfair to a lot of borrowers to say that we're going to ask you to start repaying when you might otherwise be entitled to having your loans forgiven." The administration pushed back to the end of June 30th, the currently what was previously scheduled to resume on January 1st, repayment pause ending. There's also a two-month, 60 day period after that June 30th. So effectively the end of August is when repayments will restart. So a long extension, again, and as you point out, which would hopefully correspond with the Supreme Court making a determination and the administration then knowing how to respond to that, whether borrowers are able to receive forgiveness, adjust for that before repayment begins.

Mushtaq Gunja: A saga.

Jonathan Fansmith: A real saga. I mean, how long have we been talking about this? Years.

Mushtaq Gunja: For as long as we've been podcasting, which is somewhere around 13 years.

Sarah Spreitzer: Three years, three years.

Jonathan Fansmith: It only feels like 13 years, Mushtaq. But speaking of things in the news that we're hearing a lot about, US News & World Reports, a particular hobby horse of yours, something we've talked about when we've had Colin Diver on to talk about rankings, some things are happening with our good friends at US News & World Reports, right?

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, they sure are. We were prescient in having Dr. Diver on because he's been all over the news lately. So he, remember, was the President of Reed College. They pulled out of the US News Rankings. They didn't submit data to US News. US News, by the way, instantly ranks them anyway, just without their data and really heavily penalizes them for not putting their data in. But in the last couple of weeks, we've seen a significant move among a whole set of law schools to pull out of the US News' law school rankings. So if you think that college students care about the US News rankings, man, you should get to know some law students because man, they really focus on US News rankings.

And Yale and Harvard and Columbia, I think, and Georgetown and Berkeley and others decided to pull out of the US News rankings because, among other things, they said, "Look, we've been submitting sort of pleas to US News for some time to improve the rankings and to give more credit to some public service work and to think about employment sort of differently and to not focus so much on salary after graduation." There's a whole set of complaints that they had and US News, having written a couple of those letters to them, I would say that they basically ignored the law schools and didn't do very much in terms of responding to some of those concerns. And so a whole set of schools, starting with Yale, decided that they would pull out, and this is fascinating.

I mean, what this is going to mean for US News and the industry is pretty big because I would imagine that US News is going to rank those schools anyway, but they won't be able to do it with good, strong data. So what US News is going to end up doing, I am not totally sure. It is a hobby horse, partially because I spent a lot of time thinking about US News when I was at Georgetown Law, but also because in this new world and the Carnegie Classification system, I mean, I think we sometimes get the classifications and the rankings a little bit confused and I hope that more people will start looking to the classifications to think about like institutions and a little bit away from US News that I think is probably grouping some unlike institutions together and then comparing them in ways that are probably unfair.

I think we both have and I think are creating a system that's going to work better in terms of really being able to analyze higher ed institutions so happy to talk about this in a lot of depth in a few months probably when we're a little bit farther down the journey. But I think it means we are in, I think, a period of some significant turmoil, which is interesting.

Jonathan Fansmith: Do you think this is the-

Sarah Spreitzer: So Mushtaq, do you see-

Jonathan Fansmith: Tipping point? Is this the...? Oh, sorry, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: No, I was just going to say, I think it's the same question you had, Jon, is this going to go wider than just law schools?

Mushtaq Gunja: I'm not sure. So we have not seen colleges pull out yet. The logic for pulling out is the same, I think, for colleges and for law schools. So you know the way that law schools sort of sit in these broader campuses, that they're usually mostly run themselves independently from the broader world. And the timing of the rankings come out just at different periods in the calendar. So I wonder if six months from now when colleges have to really start thinking about submitting their undergrad data, whether some of them will follow Reed and start deciding that they want to pull out. And then once a couple do, right, you might really see a little bit of a snowball effect here. Certainly what we saw in the law school side.

If Yale undergrad stops sending data in, I'm really curious about what pressure that might put on other institutions too. I mean, the one thing I should say, and it's really important to note, the law schools didn't coordinate on pulling out, and they can't for antitrust reasons. So it's not that Harvard called Yale and said, "Let's all jump together." Yale moved and the logic there was so strong that I think a lot of the other institutions who'd had trouble with US News in the past decided to do so as well. So we will see.

Jonathan Fansmith: And credit to Yale for taking that first step. We are going to return in just a moment with our guests, but before we do, it's worth mentioning, as we record this, as Tuesday, December 6th, there is a Senate election underway that will wrap up today. And I think we all know the singular importance of this election is determining whether my prediction about the outcome of the election is going to be accurate for listeners' reminders. And I can see my hosts are turning away because they don't want to acknowledge my genius. I did predict Democrats would pick up one Senate seat. So if Raphael Warnock carries it over the finish line, I will be wholly validated as compared to the two of you, Sarah who refused to offer a prediction and Mushtaq who I think said they would lose seats, is that correct?

Mushtaq Gunja: I did. I did. I sure do wish... Go ahead, Sarah.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, I was secretly thinking that it was going to be a plus one. I thought they were going to gain a seat. I'd love to go back on that.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, no, I said that they're going to lose a seat, but I really meant that they were going to gain a seat. So yes, I'm with you. We're all three of us-

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, we're on the same page, Jon.

Jonathan Fansmith: The lengths you both will go to avoid acknowledging my genius, it's troubling, honestly.

Mushtaq Gunja: We bow down to your greatness. Well, done Jon Fansmith. And if you want to predict what is going to happen with this lame duck and what approach are going to happen and all, that would be good too. Let's put that on the internal team's messaging and we can come back on the podcast and then tell everybody whether you were right or not.

Jonathan Fansmith: We'll do that one and then we'll do the speakers race in the House, what the outcome of that one will be. Those will be the fun prediction ones next time. So we will do that internally and share that with all of you. But more importantly than even our half-baked predictions is our guests, Tyler and Derrick coming up after the break, and you'll really enjoy that conversation. So stay tuned for that.


Jonathan Fansmith: And welcome back. As we mentioned at the top of the episode, we are joined by two really phenomenal guests who know each other quite well. And in fact, I know one of them quite well, Derrick Anderson here at ACE. But Derrick, you have known Tyler for a while and have worked together, so I thought maybe it'd be helpful if you would tee up, give our audience an intro to who exactly Tyler is and how you guys came to know you two together and work with each other.

Derrick Anderson: Yeah, thank you, Jon, and thanks for having me. This is a fun conversation to have. Being on the ACE team, it's been great. We focus so much on federal policy and one of the things that I always like doing is connecting it to the states and just using a little bit of my recent past professional experience and also personal experience to inform some of our Washington, DC perspectives. And this is a really nice conversation to do that.

Immediately before coming to ACE, as you know, I was on staff and faculty at Arizona State University, but I was also a citizen there and I got involved in a lot of citizen projects and sometimes those two worlds would sort come together and they did in recent work that we did on Proposition 308 in Arizona. And that's where I met Tyler. Tyler Montague is here, he's joined us and he's going to talk a little bit about his really exceptional work as a citizen activist on Prop 308. He is a moderate Republican and famous for being a Republican and I think that's a really important part of the special salsa that makes Arizona so unique. So Tyler, why don't you go ahead and maybe tell the ACE community about your work and how you got involved in higher education issues?

Tyler Montague: Well, I believe in higher education. I went to ASU for both undergrad and a master's degree, but particularly involved in immigrant-related issues has been a passion. In the early nineties, I was a missionary for my church in Chile in South America. So I had to learn Spanish and learn some new culture. And that exposure, I think, really shaped and formed my perception of the immigrant community in my hometown. And so as the 2000s wore on, there was a large growth in the undocumented immigrant community basically to meet the demand for the large growth in housing and also in the hospitality industry and farming and other industries and sometimes a response to things going on externally that were driving migrants out of desperation to America. And the political environment was such that there were a series of these ballot propositions and actions by the state legislature to make it difficult for undocumented immigrants to come and live here.

It was a kind of denial approach that if they could just make it so inhospitable, they would self-deport. That was the language, to self-deport. And a guy named Russell Pearce was the lead legislator for all or at least most of these initiatives. And he actually became the Senate President in Arizona and he passed Prop 300. He helped refer it to the ballot, a voter proposition in 2006, which made it illegal for the state to give any funding for any sort of educational benefit to undocumented immigrants. Whether it's a child or a college student or an adult learning, all of those were maybe illegal. And the way the law works is that these ballot propositions are voter protected, so if it's passed by one of those, the legislature can't change. It has to be unwound by another ballot proposition. And so that's how we got to 308.

Derrick Anderson: Tyler, can you just describe maybe for a second literally what is Prop 308? I think that might be helpful.

Tyler Montague: Yeah, the language of Prop 308 repeals a portion of the old Prop 300 that made it so that the DREAMer kids couldn't pay the in-state tuition rate or get any of the in-state state funded scholarships. And it says very simply that, "If you have been here for two or more years, physically present, attending one of our Arizona K-12 schools and that you graduate here, then you are treated like any other Arizona kid." You're able to go to the in-state colleges and universities at the in-state rate. And if you qualify for scholarship, you can get that. So no special anything, just put you on par with everyone else.

Jonathan Fansmith: I mean, obviously we know a little something about lobbying and the challenges particularly on an issue as charged as immigration, particularly I would imagine a state like Arizona. Talk a little bit about what that looked like, how you could get the legislature to even put the question forward.

Derrick Anderson: Well, so Tyler's the genius here. There's a couple things that Tyler did that I thought were really smart. One was the legislation was sponsored by a Republican member of the legislature. So it started out in the Senate. It was a Senate resolution, and it had to start in the Senate. And Tyler said, "The way for this to be successful is to get a moderate Republican." And actually we should probably talk about that. Some of the assumptions that we made about Democrats were very naive. And so Tyler maybe talk a little bit about your strategy to start, I mean, your legislative strategy a little bit here.

Tyler Montague: So a few phone calls into starting down the path, I discovered a group of DREAMers that had been working on this. And I was aware of various efforts over the years to do something legislatively and those were found to be illegal. And then the Board of Regents tried some things and then some center-left groups had tried things, but Arizona's controlled by the Republican party. And I found a group named Aliento and led by a DREAMer, Reyna Montoya and Jose Patiño. And I met with them. A friend of mine said, "Hey, you need to meet with these guys." And they were very pragmatic. I said, "We can't trigger the partisan divide and have everyone run to their trenches. We need to make this as nonpartisan as possible." And they wanted to do whatever it took to win. They were very committed to winning.

They had built up a lot of goodwill by meeting with legislators and introducing them to DREAMers. And so our strategy was to get it through Republican leadership, and we brought in the people and really big campaigns like this involve asking a lot of people to help. And you find folks that are willing and capable and help. And the speaker of the House happens to be a school teacher. And we found another Republican school teacher to co-sponsor in the House and another school teacher to sponsor in the Senate. And basically we got all the school teachers to be on our side, the Republican school teachers, and the other ones that we had were ranchers and farmers. And another lady, Joanne Osborne, who just had a close relationship with a DREAMer herself. And so those were our opportunities, and those are the people that were impervious to all the kind of hateful talk about immigrants because their personal relationships with immigrants trumped that and made them willing to take the political risk.

And there was political risk. In their campaigns this last year, they were attacked viciously by people over their support for this. Tens of thousands of dollars were spent. And that might not have even been the motivation for the groups attacking them, but that's one of the tools they used to attack them. So that was the basic strategy and the leadership of the Senate and the House let it go to the floor. It was a bit of a drama on the floor, but we got the thing referred to the ballot, which was an amazing accomplishment that we were very excited about. And then that meant we just had to go get several million dollars and run a campaign.

Mushtaq Gunja: The easy part.

Tyler Montague: The easy part. That's kind of the history and the strategy of doing it.

Sarah Spreitzer: So now that it's actually passed, which is just great news, does it take effect immediately or do state institutions need to do something to make changes to their policy?

Tyler Montague: It takes effect today.

Sarah Spreitzer: Wow.

Tyler Montague: Literally today. They signed the canvas of the election yesterday. Now there's going to have to be some bureaucratic processes figured out to validate that people have been living here and all that, but literally next semester, kids can sign up and go to college that couldn't afford it before. So we're really happy about that.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's great.

Jonathan Fansmith: For those listening, today, as we record this, this is December 6th. So also thank you, Tyler, for joining us today. We should be out partying and celebrating, right?

Tyler Montague: We've already partied plenty.

Derrick Anderson: Jon, I just want to mention that, one of the things that I think is worth noting here is that the idea for this legislation didn't come out of thin air. It didn't materialize spontaneously. I'm sorry, Arizona's neighbor to the north, Utah, had at that point had already had in place similar legislation for like 16, 17 years in advance of Arizona putting in place legislation. And so we were able to call up some of the lawmakers, and Tyler specifically was able to call up some of the lawmakers and say, "Okay, literally how did you design your legislative and procedural intervention here? And how could we learn from that?"

And so we looked to Utah and there's several other states that have similar structures to the ways that they accommodate DREAMers in their public higher education systems as well. Specifically, I'll just remind it's any individual who attended a school within the state, in this case, attended the school for two years, graduated from the school, and then earned admissions into one of the public institutions of higher learning, was ineligible for in-state tuition and, in our case, also merit and need based financial aid in as much as the state has merit and need based financial aid. And so that's sort of the design there.

Tyler Montague: Well, and Derrick's being modest about his contribution. He helped us make those connections with the people in Utah. And Derrick designed the initial poll that we ran to find what the voters were willing to do, because that was an important part of our strategy is to let's be guided by the data and the evidence, and then to use extensive polling to find the most effective way to explain this to the public and run a very professional, well-focused campaign. But literally, Derrick wrote our first poll in his personal capacity.

Derrick Anderson: Yeah, just as a citizen. I should mention it was as a citizen. But how did the polls and the voting outcome match out? Tyler, you maybe should mention that.

Tyler Montague: Yeah, we ran nine or 10 polls, maybe a dozen if we include that first initial one. But as we settled into it a year ago, we had nine polls in a row tell us 51%. We had stronger support. We had a 62%, a 65%, and a 66% where we simply asked the question, "Should DREAMer kids pay more or the same?" And people said, "Well, that's the same." But we also learned that just under half of the people didn't understand that they have to pay more. And then when you put up the legal, technical language that goes on one of these things, there's some confusion. And so we would lose 13% to 15%. And so we had nine or 10 polls in a row tell us 51%, 51%, 51%, which is weird. I've never seen polling that stable in something like this.

And conventional wisdom is that you have to be near 60% as you start and then that will erode. And so we were afraid, but people had made up their minds about this issue and were very resilient and very resistant to negative messages about this fact. When we tested negative messages, our numbers went higher. We asked people, "Did you mean to give in-state tuition and scholarships to illegal immigrant kids, illegal kids?" And they said, "Oh yeah, no, that's what I meant." We'd get four or five points higher in our poles.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah, that's so interesting. On the federal level, we've tried in various pieces of legislation to get federal student aid for those students that would otherwise qualify under DACA or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and so far have not been successful. But I guess in that vein, obviously on the federal level, protection for our DREAMers and our DACA students is one of our largest priorities here at ACE. And this week in the lame duck, they're discussing in the Senate some sort of immigration framework and how narrow to make it. And I guess I would just ask Derrick and Tyler, are there lessons learned that we may be able to use on the federal side in providing some sort of support or some sort of long-term protection for our DACA students and our DREAMers?

Derrick Anderson: Yeah, I'll just go first and kick it over to Tyler. I think one of the lessons we learned in Arizona is that the people have dispositions that don't always map onto the legislature, and that's fairly common. But in our case, the people of Arizona were more compassionate than I think that they were given credit for, and especially in the case of the wellbeing of young people. And so there's like the compassion. I think the compassion factor is a big factor. It's always a factor. But when we're talking about young people, it's a huge factor. And then I would say that the people, they're very sophisticated in their ability to understand that how a measure is actually implemented has consequences. And so I think that some of the technical details we thought might be over the head of the average voter, but it really wasn't. So obviously there's some limits to that, but people care about how it is done as well. Tyler, what are some of your thoughts on this?

Tyler Montague: Yeah, the message matters and the bill matters. I think that what they should learn at the federal level is that Russell Pearce SB 1070, Arizona just passed this, okay? And they should take that as a clear sign that there is public support for sensible reforms for the DREAMers and immigrants beyond just the DREAMers. But I know that's what they're talking about. And so I know that Senator Sinema and Senator Tillis are both working on this together and I guarantee you that the support on the Republican side is deeper than what the vote will be. When you talk one on one with people, they support this. Do we have any school teachers at the federal level? Because that's who you should talk to, the people that know them. We passed this because we were able to take it straight to the people.

The headwind that we have at the federal level is our selection process for our candidates. All of those Republicans whose votes you need, who actually a lot of them support this, they really do, they have to go through a primary election in their next election, and they could have somebody, just like it happened here attacking them over it, and so that's why it weighs on their mind. But I think that they should take courage in that close to two-thirds of the people in all the different polls you see on the issue support doing something that makes sense and there's a good way to explain it to voters. And there are really not any downsides. They should offer a path to citizenship to these kids. Not every immigration we have is an immigration problem. Some of these are immigration opportunities. And all of these kids, with their talent and their willingness to work and they want to go become productive people in our society, could be a real blessing to our country. And I hope that they take what we've done here and use that momentum to do something federally.

Sarah Spreitzer: I like that, immigration opportunities. So given that Arizona has made this change now, what's the impact going to be on the state? And perhaps that's something that we can use here on the federal level to say, "Look, Arizona made this change and they were able to grow their economy, keep some of their best educated people within the state, grow businesses." What are the things that you think will be an impact on the state of Arizona?

Tyler Montague: Well, there's going to be a couple of thousand kids every year. Over a decade, you got yourself a good size town worth of people that are going through college. And your average college graduate, depending on the numbers that you look at, contributes between $600,000 and a million dollars more in today's dollars over their lifetime to the economy, things they're buying, and so beneficial economic activity. And they pay on average $380,000 more in taxes. There's a big financial return. Not to mention, most businesses right now are having a hard time finding the labor they need. So these kids could help address that problem. And then there's a social benefit. When you put somebody through college, their children tend to go through college or acquire similar beneficial skills, and those people become integrated in the American dream. They do well, they don't tend to have heavy problems that wear on society and that cost us a lot.

And they add to what we have going on. So Arizona is going to experience those things and the fears that people have, that somehow now we're going to have a huge flood of undocumented immigrants that heard that they can go to the community college at in-state rates and so they're going to leave everything behind and come here, we don't even have to guess about that because about 20 states now have something similar to this and nothing changed in their immigration before and after. And anyone that knows any of these people knows that that's a kind of silly assumption to make. People don't even think about that when they're coming, they're coming in survival mode. So I think the fears, people will be able to witness that those don't materialize, and those benefits will come to us here in Arizona, and it's something that at the federal level they should try and get for the country.

Jonathan Fansmith: Well, Tyler, we will be watching to see all the positive changes in Arizona. I particularly want to thank you not just for making the time today on, particularly, such an auspicious day when the proposition actually takes effect, but also especially thank you and Derrick for the work you both did in making this happen. I think that particularly our audience is deeply appreciative of the work you've done in this area, and I know there's certainly thousands of students and families in Arizona who have an even greater level of appreciation. So again, thank you for making time. Thank you for all you're doing. We really do appreciate it.

Tyler Montague: Thank you for having us.

Derrick Anderson: Thank you. We'll see you soon.

Jonathan Fansmith: Thanks, and thanks everyone for listening.

Sarah Spreitzer: As always, you can check out earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU on Apple, Google Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcast. For show notes and links to the resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at Well, there, please take a short survey to let us know how we're doing. You can also email us at to give us suggestions on upcoming shows and guests. And finally, a very big thank you to the producers who helped pull this podcast together, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton, Malcolm Moore, Anthony Trueheart, Rebecca Morris, Jack Nicholson, and Fatma Ngom. They do an incredible job making this happen and making Jon, Mushtaq, and I sound as good as possible. Finally, thank you so much to all of you for listening.​​

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major public policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page.

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