Immigration activists marched from Chapel Hill to Raleigh on Saturday to demand that in-state tuition rates be given to students who have received a temporary federal reprieve from deportation.
Around 40 activists ended the “March of Broken Dreams” with a mock funeral outside the office of state Attorney General Roy Cooper. The protesters charge that Cooper has been silent about whether students in the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program are entitled to the lower college tuition rates offered to in-state residents.
“Every day that passes, someone’s dream dies,” said Oliva Prezas, 19, of Oxford, one of the students who spoke at the “funeral,” which was organized by the N.C. Dream Team. “Attorney General Cooper needs to speak out.”
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for Cooper, said a legal opinion about the issue is being drafted.
The DACA program began in 2012 by President Barack Obama to award temporary resident status to immigrants who were brought into the country as children when their parents arrived illegally. Of that group, those whose DACA applications are approved receive two-year deferrals from deportation.
To be eligible, applicants must meet requirements such as being under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012; entering the U.S. when they were under the age of 16; having a clean record; and being in school or having graduated with a high school diploma.
According to news reports, at least 17 states allow DACA students to receive in-state tuition. But the body that governs Virginia’s public colleges says those students aren’t eligible for the lower rates.
Ron Woodard is the director of NC LISTEN, which lobbies for stronger controls on immigration. He said North Carolina shouldn’t emulate the “stupid” actions of other states that allow the lower tuition rates for DACA students. He added that giving in-state tuition would reward the behavior of their parents, who came into the country illegally.
“They shouldn’t be here in the first place,” Woodard said. “(Obama) basically gave people unconstitutional pardons. Our state shouldn’t be going along with his unconstitutional behavior.”
The protesters started their march at UNC-Chapel Hill, where tuition and fees for out-of-state undergraduate students is $29,905 a year. It’s $8,123 for in-state students.
The out-of-state rate is so high that Prezas said she had to forgo plans to attend a four-year college and pursue her dream of becoming a physician assistant. She said she’s working in a factory full time to afford paying four times as much as her classmates at Vance-Granville Community College.
“It’s not fair,” said Prezas, a DACA student who came from Mexico with her parents when she was a child. “I’ve lived here 14 years. I grew up here.”
Pressure on the AG
In December, state Rep. Marcus Brandon, a Guilford County Democrat, asked Cooper for a legal opinion on the tuition issue. Brandon cited a September report that he said shows 15,989 North Carolinians have been approved for the DACA program.
Talley said that the opinion wouldn’t be binding on the UNC system or the state’s community colleges. But a legal opinion issued by Cooper’s office in 2013 did help with DACA students being able to get driver’s licenses.
Cooper has met in the past with the activists, according to Talley. He is a leading 2016 gubernatorial contender for the Democrats.
“We understand their concerns, but a legal opinion isn’t affected by protests,” Talley said.
Woodard said that Cooper should consider the impact the opinion could have on citizens who might be competing with DACA students for college admission.
“American citizens shouldn’t be punished by his actions,” he said.