They call themselves “the in-state five.”
Mario Valladares, Marco Cervantes, Cruz Nunez, Jose Rico and Ulises Perez came to the United States at different ages, went to different high schools and have different aspirations. But their dream of seeing those who entered the country illegally like themselves pay in-state tuition has brought them together.
The five men, who are part of the N.C. DREAM Team immigration advocacy group, were protesting out-of-state tuition for community college students without legal residence when they were charged with second degree trespassing at the main campus of Wake Tech Community College Aug. 15. The men will appear in court on Oct. 11.
“I’ve been working so long, and I don’t think I can wait any longer and that’s why I’m doing this,” Valladares said. “I want to be something better.”
Valladares, who crossed the Mexican-American border when he was 15 years old, worked in restaurants and construction sites after graduating from Athens Drive High School in Raleigh.
Valladares, now 27, was accepted into Wake Tech in 2011 under current educational policies that allow students without legal residence who graduated from state high schools to enroll with out-of-state tuition.
But Valladares, who wants to be a chef, said he was forced to quit college after completing only a few classes because he could not afford tuition.
At Wake Tech, in-state tuition is $71.50 per credit hour, compared to the out-of-state tuition rate of $263.50 per credit hour.
Laurie Clowers, a spokeswoman for Wake Tech, said the college follows the N.C. Community College System’s policies, which state that schools cannot grant in-state tuition for students living in the country illegally.
Megen Hoenk, a spokeswoman for the system, said the board recommended that community colleges allow immigrants living in the country illegally with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals status to register for classes at the same time as other students in August. Wake Tech began following the new interpretation Aug. 5.
DACA is a federal policy that defers the deportation of immigrants who meet certain guidelines for two years. Forty-seven of Wake Tech’s 50 students who don’t have legal residence qualify for DACA.
While DACA students can register for classes at the same time as others, they are still not eligible for in-state tuition.
“(The policy) is consistent with the UNC-system policy and to my knowledge, there are no plans to change or amend it,” Hoenk said.
Krista Perreira, a UNC-CH public policy professor, said in an email that all residents contribute to the economic development of the state, regardless of legal status.
Immigrants pay taxes including property, social security and federal and state income taxes, she said.
“Barriers to receiving a college education can undermine the state’s on-going efforts … to attract businesses seeking an educated labor force,” she said.
For Valladares, North Carolina is home.
“I’m a North Carolinian,” he said. “I’m a North Carolinian without papers.”
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