Immigrant students in N.C. lobby for tuition equity

Students who attended the Undocugraduation event gathered together at the entrance of the NC General Assembly after speaking with legislators. (Photo by Sarah Montgomery)

Dozens of students from across the state visited the Capitol building on Wednesday for the fifth year in a row to rally together and speak with state legislators about tuition equity. The “Undocugraduation” event was organized by the Adelante Education Coalition, a statewide network of organizations focused on expanding educational opportunities for Latinx/Hispanic and immigrant youth.  Some students who attended the event wore their graduation regalia to meetings with legislators, and spoke with them about their hopes and dreams in higher education.  Advocates also asked legislators to support HB 734 and SB 652, two bills that would open the door to higher education by allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition.  Approximately 66,000 undocumented immigrant students in North Carolina would benefit from a tuition equity law.

Since 2001, eighteen states have passed legislation to grant in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrant students.  Four other states have granted in-state tuition through individual university systems. North Carolina, however, is not among those states. In NC, undocumented immigrant students are still considered out-of-state residents despite the fact that many have called this state their home for most of their lives. This means that many are locked out of higher education due to the high cost of out-of-state tuition for colleges and universities.

“For over ten years now, organizations have been advocating for tuition equity in North Carolina,” said Yazmin Garcia-Rico, a current UNC graduate student who has attended Undocugraduation since it began five years ago. “Something that really got to me yesterday is that I realized that I graduated from high school ten years ago, and we’re still fighting for this because it’s still an issue ten years later,” Garcia-Rico said. Garcia-Rico was one of dozens of students who met with legislators to talk about the issue, yesterday. She says she was apprehensive about approaching a particular legislator whom she thought wouldn’t be sympathetic to their issue but was surprised at his response. “He understood and he’s interested. He said that he’s willing to work with us and that he wants to hear more stories of students,” Garcia-Rico said.

A group of state senators and representatives have been advocating for tuition equity for several years but have been continually met by opposition by their colleagues who fail to understand its economic and social benefit. Several of those who have been supportive of the policy were present at the event. In his remarks to students at the Undocugraduation ceremony, Sen. Jay Chaudhuri (D-Wake) shared the story of his parents’ migration to the United States from India, and the challenges they faced as they tried to adjust to a new environment. His mother was only 19 years old at the time, Chaudhuri recalled. “My father would never see his father ever again, but, like so many of you, my parents left their country to come to America in search of the American dream,” he said. Chaudhuri encouraged students to pursue their dreams, and reminded them, “You are America, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.”

To learn more on the benefits of tuition equity see, visit Tuition Equity: Expanding College Opportunity and Paving the Way for North Carolina’s Economic Future.

To learn how get involved in the Let’s Learn NC project, visit Tuition Equity: Get Involved.

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