A dream deferred: undocumented students and the campaign for education equality

| February 11, 2014 | 1 Comment

Photos courtesy Omar Ramirez

Storm clouds are covering the future of North Carolina and the country – clouds in the guise of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, and failed passage of the Dream Act in 2010. These storm clouds are raging hard against societal standards, implementing laws and policies without thoughtful consideration.

But a new wind is blowing in to calm the storm. This wind represents the children of the century, the future of this country and the next civil rights victors. They are known as dreamers to us, but on paper, they are depicted as aliens, illegals, undocumented, Deferred Action, non-residents, etc. It is quite unfortunate the path our state has taken towards equal opportunity to education.

North Carolina’s laws are set up to allow undocumented students to attend grades K-12 at no cost, but after graduation, things change. In 2001, North Carolina started allowing undocumented students into the North Carolina Community College System, so long as they met one of three requirements and paid out-of-state tuition.

At the time, this seemed like a step in the right direction, but North Carolina stopped there. The state sanctioned research for the purpose of expansion but, after advice from the state’s attorney general and guidance from the Department of Homeland Security, decided that full expansion was not in North Carolina’s future. Instead, North Carolina would allow undocumented students into the University of North Carolina System, but they could not receive any grants or loans and would also pay out-of-state tuition. At UNC Charlotte, that tuition rate is $9,318, compared to $3,053.50 for in-state students.

As if this was not hard enough for people who are truly trying to better themselves, federal law prevents these students from obtaining professional licenses. This system of education is absurd and exists only to disenfranchise and destroy the hope they have for a better future; it does absolutely nothing positive for the state.

Hopefully the time has come for the manifestation of a dream deferred: the dream for equal opportunity to education, in-state tuition and a path to citizenship. Admittedly, citizenship will be hard to tackle on the state level, but as Democrat Marcus Brandon has made clear, in-state tuition is a no brainer. He has sponsored House Resolution 904 in the hopes that it will pass the General Assembly and allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

This issue is being tackled from many different angles. Omar Ramirez, a student at UNC Charlotte and senator of the College of Health and Human Services, is working with the campaign “One State, One Rate” to bring the issue to campus; they want to show undocumented students are fellow Niners, just as intelligent and bright, who want to be equally recognized under the law.

This grassroots movement isn’t without its misfires. Critics have already attacked ally to the cause Democrat Attorney General Roy Cooper, who was flanked by a letter campaign accusing him of, “Holding our diplomas hostage.”

Quite simply, the surge of opposition is misdirected. A better target would be the state governor and legislature, as the only thing preventing these undocumented students from paying in-state tuition is the residency and eligibility requirements set by the legislature and signed by the governor.

The attorney general’s job is to uphold and enforce the Constitution and the state laws. This is not a matter of whether the attorney general agrees with the movement but whether he can legally act, which he cannot.

“You have also inquired about the status for in-state tuition of students who have been granted Deferred Action Status under [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] DACA … However, as to your question regarding eligibility for in-state tuition for such students, the issue here is whether an individual granted DACA status qualifies as a ‘resident for tuition purposes,’” said the attorney general in response to Marcus Brandon’s letter requesting a legal opinion on DACA.

“Under federal law, 8 U.S.C. § 1621, individuals with DACA status are not eligible to receive the benefit of in-state tuition unless a specific state statute provides otherwise … You and other legislators have sponsored HB 904, which would make these changes by giving certain immigrant students in-state tuition status. However, this legislation has not been enacted.”

In short, the campaign for equal education is garnering national attention. Federal efforts by US Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash. and U.S. Representative Jared Polis, D-Colo., through the Investing In States To Achieve Tuition Equity (IN-STATE) legislation, which would grant in-state tuition for all undocumented students in the U.S., as long as they meet certain qualifications. Senator Murray believes, “Undocumented students are no different than their classmates. They live in the same towns, attend the same schools, and share the same dreams – and they deserve an equal chance to go to college and start successful careers in this country.”

It is rather unfortunate that this is even an issue in 2014, but we are faced with a changing reality. We must fight misinformation, discrimination and this broken political and immigration system.

At some point, people will realize that people create the systems that hurt other people. We must stop the one-sided approaches of fixing the system and fix the politicians as well. “One State, One Rate” will happen – if not this year, then next year – but how long can out our fellow Niners pay out-of-state tuition before the dream turns into default?

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Sean Grier Sean Grier is a writer for the Opinion Section for the 2013-2015 academic year. He is a History major with a Political Science & Secondary Education minor. Sean has been writing for the NinerTimes since his freshman year. He can be contacted at sgrier16@uncc.edu.

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  1. Berenice says:

    Calling AG Cooper an ally to immigrant youth is incorrect. Based on NC law, the requirements to qualify for tuition at the in state rate is to establish domicile here. Immigrant youth who have been granted DACA can do that. If Cooper was an ally to immigrant youth, he would’ve interpreted the law to say that, making the community college system and the UNC system rethink their practice of charging out of state tuition to holders of DACA. Instead, in his advisory letter, which is not even signed by him mind you, he makes the political move of washing his hands clean of throwing immigrant youth under the bus by ruling against immigrant youth and saying it is up to the legislature to address the issue because he didn’t have the backbone to do so. As former Lt. Governor Walter Dalton and Senator Kay Hagan who voted against the Dream Act in 2010, Roy Cooper shuts the door of learning in our faces and immediately after starts a campaign to take back nc.. to what? Ban undocumented youth from colleges and universities? Ha. Are you sure he’s an ally still? I beg to differ.

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Sean Grier Sean Grier is a writer for the Opinion Section for the 2013-2015 academic year. He is a History major with a Political Science & Secondary Education minor. Sean has been writing for the NinerTimes since his freshman year. He can be contacted at sgrier16@uncc.edu.