“The people don’t do anything because we matter to them, but because people like me pressure them to listen to us,” Maria Garcia says. She’s spent weeks walking door to door, working to sway Arizona voters to care about all students’ rights to an education.
Maria is an undocumented student studying at Arizona State University. She’s double-majoring in Political Science and Transborder Studies. She is also an educational organizer intern at Aliento, a non-profit organization that advocates for DACA recipients and families without legal immigration status.
Maria (no relation to this reporter) has lived in Arizona since she was 3 years old, but because of Arizona’s laws for students who are not citizens, she says she has to pay about $6,000 more than the average student who is a citizen.
Rosa Muñoz and Raul Garcia Chavez, Maria’s parents, know the many obstacles their daughter has faced.
“We are very proud of our daughter,” Rosa says. “She has always proved to be hard-working and I see something special in her.”
If approved, Proposition 308 would allow Arizona students like Maria, regardless of immigration status, to pay in-state tuition at universities and community colleges if they graduated from an Arizona high school and have lived in the state for at least two years.
It would repeal part of Proposition 300, which Arizona voters approved in 2006. The law made it difficult for undocumented students to attend college because they were forced to pay for their education at the same rates as students living out of state — triple what an Arizona resident pays — no matter how many years they have lived in Arizona.
To comply with the 2006 law, all three state universities had to start verifying the eligibility of incoming and continuing students who receive in-state tuition or financial aid that is supported by state monies.
In 2021, the Legislature, including a handful of key Republican lawmakers, approved the ballot referendum, paving the way for voters to decide in Tuesday’s Nov. 8 midterm election if Arizona will shake loose some of its anti-immigrant laws.
More than 20 states have laws that allow state residents who are undocumented to pay the same tuition rates as citizens, according to the National Immigration Law Center. A bipartisan coalition of education, business, faith and civic leaders launched the Yes on 308 campaign, calling the measure a boon for educational equality and economic prosperity.
“I have been a part of this work since 2007 as a high school student,” says José Patiño, vice president of education and external affairs at Aliento. “Proposition 300 got me involved to understand more about politics, immigration status, and how those things work. Hopefully, we come full circle with Proposition 308.”
Canvassing from door to door
Aliento and other volunteers started canvassing in the lead-up to the midterm election to bring awareness of what Prop. 308 means to Arizona voters and students.
“Canvassing is important because not many voters know about Proposition 308,” Maria says. “It makes a difference having a Dreamer at your door telling you about their story.”
Marivue Park in Phoenix, Arizona is their starting location on a warm day in October less than a month before the election.
The rain is pouring down but everyone remains optimistic, smiling often and eager to play a part in their own future, their education and Arizona’s election system.
Every volunteer introduces themselves and shares their purpose for being there. The majority are Dreamers or have loved ones who are Dreamers, and they want to be their voice. Others aren’t directly impacted but still want to make a difference.
Aliento members and other volunteers are split into groups of two or three. Each group has to tackle a certain amount of houses and apartment complexes before 12:45. They’re using the app MiniVAN, which allows them to export canvassing lists onto their iPhone. They can then enter data into their device as they talk to people on their list, which makes it easier to know which voters they’ve reached out to.
Maria and Melanie Beikman have the most houses to canvas, a total of 63 in three hours. At first, the majority of people can’t be reached.
Many aren’t home. Some don’t answer the door. But they don’t give up.
Their solution is to leave an information sheet. They hope voters will read it and care enough about students and education equality to vote for Prop. 308.
Melanie and Maria eventually find some voters who are home and willing to listen. They start conversations but a great deal of people seemed uninterested.
They listen to voters share their own thoughts: “No, I have never heard of this proposition before” and “I’m not voting this year.”
Sometimes making a difference seems impossible
Melanie and Maria can’t help but feel disheartened. Sometimes wanting to make a difference seems impossible, they say.
One hour passed and they feel like they aren’t making any progress.
“The beginning always starts slow, but when we least expect it, people are going to want to know what Proposition 308 is,” Melanie says, reassuring Maria.
And that is exactly what happened.
Maria knocks on a door and speaks with Susana Garcia, a supportive mother who wasn’t aware of Prop. 308, but she is willing to listen.
“It is very sad that kids who grew up in Arizona don’t have the same opportunities simply because they are undocumented. Their life is here,” Susana says.
Susana’s daughter Naomi was raised in Arizona since she was 4 years old. She studied
part-time at a community college, but had to stop when Prop. 300 became law.
Latoya Gomes is the last stop before the group has to head back to Marivue Park.
“You guys deserve to be here, it’s your right,” she says.
Latoya already received her ballot in the mail, and wants Maria to show her exactly where Prop. 308 is located in the long list of candidates and election measures. Maria points to the measure. Latoya immediately shows her support. She says she will vote yes.
The two volunteers end the day with eight people saying they’d vote yes. That’s more than they thought they’d get when they started out.
“It was a great experience to be able to knock on people’s doors and inform them about something so important,” Maria says.
Melanie and Maria don’t know if Prop. 308 will become law. None of the volunteers do. They know they tried to make a difference, even if it sometimes seems impossible.