Braving a tornado warning and a 30-mile walk, about 50 people marched for eight hours from Chapel Hill to Raleigh Saturday to urge N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper to give a legal opinion on whether students without documentation can receive in-state tuition.
Not even pouring rain and a possible tornado could stop them. The march, called the March of Broken Dreams, led to the steps of Cooper’s office, where students without documentation — clad in the cap-and-gown garb of their high school graduations — held a funeral for their dream careers.
Many participants in the march were Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students — those who came to the U.S. without documentation as children and hold temporary legal status.
Viridiana Martinez, co-founder of the N.C. DREAM Team, said this was one of many recent events to pressure Cooper into breaking his silence and offering an opinion on whether students without documentation qualify for in-state tuition.
“Attorney General Cooper is holding diplomas hostage, and there’s not a reason to do it,” she said. “His inaction, his silence is killing these kids’ futures.”
A spokeswoman at the attorney general’s office said the office is working on providing a legal opinion.
Martinez said the funeral at the end symbolized the professions from which Cooper was holding them back.
“That’s what we’re burying. Their dreams. Their dreams to become a teacher, their dreams to become a doctor — at this funeral because of Attorney General Cooper,” she said.
Oliva Prezas, 19 and a DACA student, said she graduated from high school in 2012, but could not afford to go to a four-year college to fulfill her dream of becoming an orthopedic physician’s assistant, because she had to pay out-of-state tuition.
Now a student at Vance-Granville Community College, Prezas said she is paying four times as much as her high school classmates. Last semester’s bill alone totaled $2,600 for three classes.
Prezas said in order to pay her tuition, she is working at a factory.
“It’s very overwhelming and very expensive, and it causes a financial burden for not just me, but for my family,” she said.
Daniela Hernandez Blanco, a UNC sophomore and DACA student, said she almost did not graduate from high school because she thought she would not be able to afford to continue her education.
“They push us in school. You know, we’re worth something K-12, but the moment you get out of 12, you’re not worth shit,” she said.
Hernandez Blanco said many more DACA students are going to graduate from high school in June, but won’t be able to pursue their dreams because they can’t afford to attend a four-year college.
“They’re getting ready to graduate and a lot of them are knowing that that cap on their head is just a costume,” she said. “It’s not real.”
Nadia Ortiz, a senior at Chapel Hill High School and a DACA student, said she has already begun the process of applying to college, but faces additional anxieties because she doesn’t know how she will afford it.
“I’m stressed out, because I know that my parents cannot afford $26,000,” she said.
Ortiz said she would like to pursue psychology or art.
Ciara Voy, a student at Duke University and an ally at the march, said she believes these students deserve in-state tuition.
“All the things that I take advantage of and don’t think anything of, other people are fighting for diligently,” she said. “They work harder than me and they’re smarter than me and they’re probably more deserving than me, and they don’t get it.”
Martinez said the fight will continue until Cooper takes action. Some of the students, she said, have even expressed a willingness to get arrested if that’s what it takes.
“It could very well get to that point, which would be a shame,” she said. “Honestly, there’s no reason for (Cooper) to not say anything.”
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