North Carolina Undocumented Youth Hold ‘UndocuGraduation,’ Demanding Tuition Equality

North Carolina undocumented youth gathered in Raleigh last week for “UndocuGraduation” to demand equal access to education.

North Carolina is a state that has been historically committed to education. It has the first public university in the country, and the state constitution mandates (“as far as practicable”) a free university education for all. It was where black university students sparked a sit-in movement to end segregation. Its governors, like Terry Sanford and Jim Hunt, have always been committed to expanding education. And yet, despite this incredible legacy, the North Carolina legislature continues to deny many students a college education because of their immigration status. 

“North Carolina has 35,000 undocumented students in its school systems,” Megan Walsh and Jackie Aguilar said in a press release from the Let’s Learn NC campaign. “Hundreds of undocumented students graduate from NC high schools each year, and cannot attend college because of the high out-of-state tuition fees. On Wednesday, undocumented students will show how graduating is very exciting, but disheartening at the same time, when realizing college is not possible for them.” 

As Walsh and Aguilar have indicated, the cost of a college education in North Carolina is prohibitive. Legislators have attempted to ban undocumented students outright several times in the past several years, but have failed to do so. As recently as 2008, the state chose to ban undocumented students from college, and then reversed its decision the following year when a private study indicated that college access was the better policy. 

In 2011, former Representative Dale Folwell (R-Forsyth), a member of State Legislators for Legal Immigration, attempted to intimidate immigrant families from enrolling in public primary and secondary schools by requiring proof of citizenship or immigration status. Folwell ended up softening the bill after a heated and publicly embarrassing exchange with the NC DREAM Team. 

According to the Adelante Education Coalition, the cost of a public education in the UNC system is roughly seven thousand dollars per year. The bill Let’s Learn NC is hoping to move through the legislature, H 904, would end the practice of charging students more because of their immigration status. 

It is graduation season, and many of the state’s undocumented youth who could be attending college in the fall will not. Last week, those students spoke out. The legislators in Raleigh ought to listen. 

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