Darian Benitez Sanchez
Darian Benitez Sanchez

In 2006, Arizona voters passed Proposition 300, which denied undocumented students, including DACA recipients, in-state tuition rates. This law means students like him pay 50% more for tuition at Arizona public universities than other in-state residents.

Harvard freshman Darian Benitez Sanchez is settling into his new life in Boston. He still doesn’t know where all of his classes are, but says he is definitely missing his family back in Arizona. 

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“I am very blessed and fortunate with the chance at an Ivy League education and a cornucopia of resources, but I am only a week into my new life, and I still need to familiarize myself with this new city, community, and the policies that exist here,” Benitez Sanchez told The Copper Courier. 

Benitez Sanchez, a high school graduate of Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix, planned to attend Barrett, The Honors College at Arizona State University. However, as a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipient, in-state tuition benefits didn’t apply to him, despite living in Arizona since he was four years old. 

In 2006, Arizona voters passed Proposition 300, which denied undocumented students, including DACA recipients like Benitez Sanchez, in-state tuition rates. This law means students like him pay 50% more for tuition at Arizona public universities than other in-state residents. That’s a price tag Benitez Sanchez couldn’t afford, so he opted to go to Harvard. The university offered him the financial aid necessary to cover his entire tuition. 

Benitez Sanchez says he felt guilty about leaving his family in Arizona, mainly because of their undocumented status. 

“We were forced to have a short goodbye at the airport the day I flew to Boston because my parents don’t have documentation that would allow them to fly without such a huge preoccupation,” he said. 

“My friends and family constantly remind me that they’re proud of me, that they wish me the best, and that Arizona is waiting for when I return. Still, even with all of that comfort and support, it hurts to be away.” 

“I would do anything to feel the goosebumps from the heat as you climb into the car in Arizona and turn on the AC, only for it to blow even hotter air. I miss my Aliento community and the work we did. I’m very blessed I have so much support in Arizona, and I can’t wait to see them very soon.”

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Benitez Sanchez said that while it’s difficult to be away from his friends and family, he really had no choice but to leave Arizona and everything he has ever known. He said that under the current law, students in his position will be forced to leave as well.

“As much as we want to believe we can stay in Arizona, stay with our families, stay in our home, we have to be prepared for the reality we currently live in,” he said. “Most of us are from low-income families and don’t have access to the money that is asked of us in order to attend these local universities.”

Benitez Sanchez said students like him should not limit themselves to Arizona, “as sad as it is.”

“I’m not advocating for [students] to try and leave the state, but they shouldn’t shy away from those full-need schools, private institutions, and private scholarships,” he said. “Leaving home can ultimately be one of the most difficult things you do, knowing you carry the burden of leaving behind an unprotected family, loved ones whose very presence in the country isn’t secure, but remember that everything you do is for them.”

Next year, Arizona will once again decide the college education fate of DACA recipients via a ballot referendum. Arizonans will vote on whether to repeal the portions of Proposition 300. For those who want Prop 300 to remain intact, Benitez Sanchez has a message for them:

“Remember that we all think of the same place when we think of home. We need and depend on each other. We’re each other’s friends, classmates, neighbors, and community members. The issue at hand should not be political nor polarizing, we the students don’t see it that way. To us, we just ask for the chance at an education and the opportunity to contribute in our state. Arizona is our home. Together, we are Arizona.”

Prop 300 may soon become a nonissue, however, because the Senate will vote on the $3.5 trillion budget plan in the coming days which includes a path for citizenship for millions of undocumented people. If passed, DACA beneficiaries, farmworkers, and other qualifying undocumented immigrants would be able to become US citizens.