With Liberty and Justice for All?


September 25, 2013

By Christina Martinez, DFER-AZ State Director

With liberty and justice for all. This bold statement of equality in the Pledge of Allegiance is uttered countless times every day across the United States by those who are proud to call this nation home. It was the pursuit of liberty and justice that inspired the Founding Fathers to create a country where people could have a chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and it has served as the driving force behind political and cultural movements for generations.

In August, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and over the past half-century, we have made significant steps as a nation to make equal rights a reality. But while we may no longer face segregation and Jim Crow laws, we are still fighting against inequality: age discrimination, bias based on sexual orientation, and unequal access to opportunity.

Looking within my home state, I am reminded of how far we have to go to fully actualize the dream that generations of leaders like our Founding Fathers, Dr. King, and thousands of others have fought so hard to make a reality. Currently in Arizona, students across the state are facing unequal access to a quality education. In 2006, the state passed Proposition 300, requiring all students who enroll in a community college or university in the state to prove their citizenship and residency in order to receive in-state tuition. This law has disproportionately impacted thousands of undocumented students who are residents, but not citizens. Because of this law, these students must pay increased tuition at state colleges and universities instead of the lower in-state tuition provided to citizens, which has made the dream of pursuing a college education all but impossible for many. Despite this obstacle, however, some undocumented residents have slowly worked toward their degrees within the community college system by paying full tuition, but even this opportunity is now facing scrutiny.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne has proposed a redistricting of the Maricopa Community College Governing Board, the governing body for the largest community college system in the state. His plan would add two additional conservative seats to the board in an attempt to help pass several conservative education bills. He has recently pursued legal action against the Maricopa County Community College system, claiming that the in-state tuition rate offered to students who have legal residency and are actively working towards citizenship is against the Arizona Constitution simply because of their current immigration status. If the judge rules in favor of his lawsuit, it will remove the in-state tuition option from even more students including those who have legal status through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and undocumented students – putting the dream of a college education out of reach entirely for even more individuals.

This is not equality in my book. There is no liberty or justice in these types of political maneuvers, simply bias and exclusion.

Political actions like this must be stopped. They are happening in my home state of Arizona and in others all across the country. As a nation, we must work tirelessly to elect leaders who remain true to the pursuit of equality and justice for all – so that all students, regardless of legal status, can pursue their dreams. We must work to ensure that the hard work of past leaders is not undone and that all people have a chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We must work to guarantee that future generations know that this is still a nation of opportunity.

Christina has been working in politics and government relations for most of her adult career. A passionate education reformer, Christina has helped low income students in Arizona and across the nation receive the high-quality education they deserve. She has also been a champion in the AZ legislature fighting for families that have fallen victim to zip code discrimination. Read more about Christina here.