Students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are taking a stance for undocumented immigrants among them.
A student-led campaign—titled One State, One Rate—calls for in-state tuition to be granted to undocumented immigrants who live in North Carolina and attend UNC. Currently, the undocumented students are being charged the full out-of-state tuition. In-state students living on campus are charged $23,416 for the 2013-14 academic year, compared to the out-of-state on-campus residents’ fee of $45,806
“We believe that education is a fundamental human right,” said Boriana Mravkova, co-chair of Students United for Immigrant Equality, the organization at UNC leading the campaign.
One State, One Rate was started by Emilio Vicente and Pablo Friedmann, a current student and alumnus, respectively, of UNC. The campaign—which officially launched on Sept. 9—takes issue with current state law, which supports the practice of charging out-of-state tuition to undocumented students at all public universities and community colleges in North Carolina.
“Many of these undocumented students were very young when they got here,” Mravkova said. “They were most likely taken across the border by their parents, and didn’t have a choice on their own.”
Georgia Campbell, a student immigrant who has a green card from New Zealand and attends UNC, supports the campaign because she believes in the founding principle of UNC to “teach a diverse community of students.”
“If students have resided in the state for a long time, graduated from a North Carolina high school and are academically competent enough to be accepted to a competitive institution, they should be allowed to attend with in-state tuition rates,” Campbell said.
After a press conference on Sept. 17 featuring a speech by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and undocumented immigrant Jose Antonio Vargas, a petition with nearly 900 signatures was delivered to UNC Chancellor Carol Folt’s office. Vargas, along with North Carolina Justice Center, endorsed the campaign.
“We were notified by the office that our petition was received,” Mravkova said. “But a lack of further response implies that the chancellor is not ready to take a public stance on this campaign.”
Despite the large number of signatures gathered from students, faculty, staff and alumni within two weeks, Mravkova noted that many students at UNC are not very familiar with the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants.
“One of the major goals of this campaign is to raise awareness in the general student body and let them know what it means to be undocumented students,” Mravkova said.
A fact sheet by the National Immigration Law Center states that less than 2 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2013 are undocumented. Aditionally, approximately 5 to 10 percent would go on to attend college. Sixteen states have passed legislation permitting some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.
“It is cruel that after enjoying 12 years of public education system from pre-K to senior year in high school, these students are unable to go to the college of their dreams, just because they cannot afford it,” Mravkova said.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that Arizona, Georgia and Indiana explicitly ban undocumented students from receiving in-state tuition rates, while Alabama and South Carolina bar them from enrolling in postsecondary educational institutions at all.
There are currently approximately 20 undocumented students studying at UNC, where they do not qualify for in-state or federal student loans, and are denied federal scholarships, Mravkova said.
“Many of them have expressed to me how much they like UNC as a school, and how great it has been to enjoy all the opportunities available here,” Mravkova said. “However, they think it’s not fair that they have to pay out-of-state tuition even though they have lived here the majority of their lives.”.
The undocumented status of these students has also caused controversy.
Melinda Lian, a sophomore at UNC from Florida, pays the full tuition every year. She said in addition to considering the needs of undocumented immigrants, the hardships of students with legal status deserve consideration.
“I realistically think undocumented students should do the same,” Lian said. “The tuition is a huge burden for me, too. I feel like if anyone should get a lower tuition, I would give the documented out-of-state students priority.”
Lian added that she also supports lower tuition rates for undocumented students, as their noncitizen status may lead to a lower income to begin with.
Another press conference is being held on Sept. 26, after which representatives of One State, One Rate will attend the UNC Board of Trustees meeting and ask members of the board for their stance on this issue.