Undocumented students seek equity

Posted June 17, 2014

Five undocumented students walked from Charlotte to Raleigh this month to call attention to their quest for in-state tuition eligibility.

— A group of undocumented students and supporters met at the General Assembly Tuesday for an "UndocuGraduation" – an event intended to highlight the difficulties many face in paying for college.

Five of those students walked from Charlotte to Raleigh – 140 miles over the past nine days – to ask lawmakers to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students who graduate from North Carolina high schools. 

Such students would qualify for in-state tuition if they were legal citizens, but because they are not, they are charged the higher out-of-state rate. In addition, many can't get loans or scholarships because of their immigration status, so they have to pay for college out of their pockets.  

For families already struggling to get by, said walker Rogelio Gallegos, college is often beyond their means.

Gallegos, 17, a rising senior at East Mecklenburg High School, said he's not sure how he and his sister will afford to continue their education. His family came to the U.S. from El Salvador when he was 6.

Like many in his generation, Gallegos is covered by DACA, or Deferred Action for Child Arrivals, a 2012 federal program that protects undocumented children brought to the U.S. from deportation as long as they're in school or the military or have graduated high school.

But DACA is a temporary program that does not confer legal immigration status.   

"We're hard-working, and we're here for our education," Gallegos said. "We're not criminals. We just want to study here and be law-abiding citizens. But we're not citizens." 

Walker Elver Barrios, 23, is now a student at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, but he struggled for five years to figure out how to afford college. He said he doesn't want others in his community to face the same hurdles. 

"This is what we're willing to do for our education," Barrios told the crowd. "I walk because this is my future. I walk because this is my life." 

Four valedictorians of Charlotte high schools this year are undocumented or DACA students.

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, attended the rally. He works for the Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools system.

"I'm out here because some of my students are out here, students I've worked with and have known since they were very young," Meyer said. "They're out here standing up to say, 'We've gone through North Carolina schools, and we want the ability to have an affordable college education.'"   

Last spring, House Democrats filed House Bill 904, a proposal for tuition equity for some immigrant students. It was never heard by committee. Meyer said he doesn't expect that to change in the waning days of this short session, but he's hopeful for 2015.

"We're trying to build relationships across party lines to find a coalition of people who would support this," he said. "Maybe we can finally have a committee meeting where these students can have their voices heard."


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  • Jeff Johnson Jun 18, 2014
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    DACA is not a 'program', it's an executive order from our resident socialist president. Calling it a program implies it was established through due process.

  • Jeff Johnson Jun 18, 2014
    user avatar

    US citizens from another state should receive instate tuition before illegals do. More will come if we continue to offer rewards for violating our laws.
    The title of the article should read 'Illegals seek more handouts'.

  • Terry Watts Jun 17, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    They are not looking for a "hand-out". All they want is to be recognized as In-State Residents by the UNC System. They'll still pay tuition like any other kid from NC...

  • Terry Watts Jun 17, 2014
    user avatar

    Reality bites... Immigration Reform is not going to happen anytime soon...

    DACA kids do have a realistic option: they could join the military. More info can be found here: http://www.uscis.gov/news/fact-sheets/naturalization-through-military-service-fact-sheet

  • rcsser Jun 17, 2014

    Don't you mean ILLEGAL

  • flyguync Jun 17, 2014

    Maybe these "undocumented" students should seek educational opportunities in their home countries and see how that works out. Why are these people looking for a handout?

  • Terry Watts Jun 17, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    There is no point arguing with some that can't differentiate between two separate issues... Giving any person In State Tuition does not change their legal status. To argue differently is to admit ignorance of the Law.

  • imback Jun 17, 2014

    View quoted thread

    huh? . Its always been a major issue. Forced into public education? Please explain. And try not to show your partisianship too much.

  • juliomercado Jun 17, 2014

    Simple question: Who pays?? Not the students here illegally or their parents. The people that end up paying are paying enough. NO!

  • imback Jun 17, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Oh yes they are. Its all part of the push by both illegals and their supporters to blur the lines between citizens and non-citizens. Question for you. Where will those non-citizens work after they graduate? Are you going to insist they get deported?