Illegal immigrants dream of in-state tuition

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A recently graduated high school student stares upward, longingly, at the gates of a Virginia college university. This summer should have been the time to relax and have fun. Instead it is a time of worry and trouble. Though they may have graduated without any difficulty, the real challenge stands ahead, blocking their path. They are one of many undocumented immigrants; in other words, illegal. And this poses a threat as they are required to pay out-of-state tuition. A piece of legislation has just been proposed, the Tuition Equity Act, would change that.

On Tuesday, Jan. 7, Virginia State Senator Alfonso Lopez announced that he would again propose his Tuition Equity Act. This act “would allow undocumented immigrant students, who have been approved for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) by the Department of Homeland Security, to apply for in-state tuition at Virginia Colleges and Universities,” according to alfonsolopez.org.

Currently, “many state institutions charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition fees (even if the student is a longtime resident of the state), and this policy can put college out of their reach financially,” according to a College Board article.

This bill has brought a lot of attention and controversy. Last year the bill was supported with legislation by delegate Tom Rust, as well as from a variety of organizations, including “business leaders, state colleges and universities, religious organizations, education advocates and immigrant rights groups,” according to alfonsolopez.org.

However, the bill fell short at the House Appropriations Committee and its run was terminated. Still, Lopez has proposed it once again.

“I think that it’s going to start a conversation,” history teacher Michele Devoti said, “but I don’t think that it’s going to be passed.”

Though this bill seeks to solve some of the immigration issues that exist throughout America, it doesn’t address all of them.

“It doesn’t tackle the larger immigration issue,” Devoti said, “and it might be called a flashpoint for people to react.”

Even if it doesn’t look at the big picture, this bill could create new possibilities that haven’t existed in the past for undocumented citizens.

“The benefit is we can force generational change,” Devoti said. “Study after study has shown that a college degree makes such a difference over the course of a lifetime.” Though it might not help them get a job or get to an earlier retirement, it could improve the situation of their children who would be legal citizens.

People seem to be thinking the same way as the DACA program was created and approved on Aug. 15, 2012.

The proposed act has similar pro-immigrant undertones as the the Department of Homeland Security’s DACA program.  Put in place on Aug. 15, 2012, this program gives undocumented immigrants the opportunity to have “a temporary suspension of deportation and the authorization to work in the United States,” according to brookings.edu.

With Senator Lopez continuing right where he left off, the bill is slowly starting to gain more supporters as it appeals to people’s sense of morality.

If these students meet the standards set then they deserve to have a chance to pay in-state tuition, sophomore Bianca Franco said.

“Why not do something that helps people who have done nothing wrong,” Devoti said.

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