“It just really didn’t make any sense to me because I had gone to high school and lived in North Carolina since I was 3 years old,” Cervantes said.
“And I couldn’t go to college because of tuition rates.”
Instead of attending college like many of his classmates, Cervantes joined the Carrboro-based Immigrant Youth Forum , where he devotes his knowledge and skills to advocating for in-state tuition for students without documentation and other immigrants’ rights issues.
Cervantes, his organization and Witness for Peace: Southeast, a national organization that works for justice in the Southeast, protested on UNC’s campus last week to raise awareness about the need for tuition equality.
Daniela Hernandez Blanco , an immigrant and UNC student without documentation, said the demonstration was important because it showed the community coming together and acknowledging that immigrants without documentation are an integral part of society.
“It shows we’re not going to stay silent, and we’re going to make sure people get what they rightly deserve,” Blanco said.
And immigration reform protests are happening outside of North Carolina as well.
Advocacy groups have taken the issue to the streets of Washington, D.C. to expand President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA . The legislation pardons immigrants without documentation who were brought to the United States while they were children.
“DACA happened because the community rose up and organized,” Blanco said. “It was because groups did advocacy work and put pressure on the president to make that change, and that’s what people are doing now.”
Blanco said she thinks there is no reason why DACA should not be expanded to families with parents who don’t have documentation and their U.S.-born children.
Director of the Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, Dani Moore, said DACA is too narrow in who it covers.
Her organization protested the White House by signing a letter to Obama with other national groups. The letter asked for relief that would include as many immigrants as possible.
“The deportation, the suffering (and) the separation of families has reached a crisis point,” Moore said. “The status quo is unacceptable to us at this point.”
Blanco said separated families and stories like Cervantes’ are all too common.
Emilio Vicente , an immigrant without documentation and former UNC student body presidential candidate, said he knew Cervantes and many others like him.
“Marco is obviously really smart and deserves to be in college too,” Vicente said.
“I would love to see more undocumented students going to college. This protesting is important because virtually all (Americans) are affected by this.”