Undocumented students, supporters march 30 miles for in-state tuition
Through the fog and drizzle, young activists showed up at the steps of the Franklin Street post office, passing out signs that read, “Right to Education, Right to Dream” and “AG Cooper, In-State Tuition Now!”
The morning marchers were leading the North Carolina “One State, One Rate” campaign for in-state tuition for undocumented students. As state law stands now, an undocumented student attending a North Carolina university or college must pay out-of-state tuition.
But the N.C. Dream Team, an organization of undocumented youth and allies fighting for immigrant rights, argue that a clarification to North Carolina law would allow undocumented students to attend school at more affordable rates.
Since the fall semester, young activists have pushed Attorney General Roy Cooper to side with their efforts. They say that have gotten little to no response from his office, and the University of North Carolina system and N.C. Community College System have issued responses, saying they cannot act on this issue until change is made from within the N.C. General Assembly.
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman with Attorney General Cooper’s office, said the office has met with members of the “One State, One Rate” campaign previously to discuss their tuition concerns.
Cooper’s office also received a request in December from N.C. Rep. Marcus Brandon, asking for Cooper to issue his written opinion on whether undocumented students in North Carolina are eligible for in-state rates.
“This is a legal opinion from our office, and we issue these by request of government officials,” Talley said.
She said right now, they’re using federal and state law instead of protest to weigh their opinion, and when they do make their statement public, it will be a written document.
Elizabeth Simpson, the N.C. Dream Team’s attorney, said the attorney general’s office is working on their request right now, and she added, “I think the public pressure has a lot to do with that.”
She sent a legal memo to Cooper’s office this week, citing the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program supported by President Obama in June of 2012, which calls for deferred action for undocumented youth who come to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service in the States.
These undocumented students who’ve been approved for deferred action, meaning they aren’t accruing unlawful time in the U.S. but still don’t have legal status, consider North Carolina “home” and should be eligible for in-state tuition, according to Simpson’s memo.
As of September 2013, about 19,876 North Carolina students had applied for DACA. About 16,000 had been approved, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Simpson said she has watched the “One State, One Rate” campaign strengthen since she became involved with N.C. Dream Team a few years ago.
“They’re building strength, they’re building experience, and that’s a really important part of it, too,” she said. “Even if they lose at any point along the way, they’re building power to go forward in the future.”
Cruz Nuñez, a 17-year-old senior at Chapel Hill High School participating in the march Saturday, said both of his parents are undocumented after leaving a life of poverty in Mexico. He said their hard work ethic has permeated his school studies.
Nuñez added others receive in-state tuition just because of where they were born, even though he’s “jumped through the teachers’ hoops, writing the papers, doing the projects” and spent kindergarten through 12th grade in the U.S.
“We can learn, but this policy makes us look like we’re incapable,” he said. “We’re not.”
Before the marchers set off into the rain, Viridiana Martinez, co-founder of the N.C. Dream Team, shared a few words with the group.
“He is holding our diplomas hostage,” Martinez said of Cooper. “He’s silent on the matter, and in the meantime there have been thousands of students who have not been able to go to college this semester, who were unable to enroll because they can’t afford to pay four times as much as their high school classmates.
“… Even when they graduated from high school from here. Even when this is their home. Even when we’re not planning to leave.”