Last year, the White House issued an executive order barring the deportation of high school students whose parents came to this country illegally. They were encouraged to apply for a special immigration status that could, ultimately, lead to citizenship. Now, seven of those students are suing to qualify for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.
About 7,000 students have qualified for deferred action – allowing them to stay in the United States, and another two thousand applications are pending. We don’t know how many of them would like to attend college at state schools, but Tim Freilich of the Legal Aid Justice Center thinks they should be eligible for in-state tuition.
“These are kids who’ve grown up here in Virginia. They’ve graduated from a Virginia high school. Now that they’ve received this deferred action status, they’re actually eligible for a Virginia drivers’ license, they can get a social security card, they can work legally in the U.S..”
But the State Council for Higher Education doesn’t see it that way.
“Right now they’ve interpreted the state statute as it’s written as saying that students with deferred action are, as a category, ineligible for even applying for in-state tuition status, and we think that’s not a correct interpretation.”
And for students like 20-year-old Ramiro Vasquez, that’s a problem. He’s studying culinary arts at Piedmont, Virginia Community College – paying out of state rates.
“It’s a big difference. Just for this semester for five credits I pay almost $3,000.”
A graduate of Monticello High School, Ramiro worked after school and on weekends to save money for college, but he still needs help from his parents to pay his tuition.
“For me I feel bad that they have to work extra hours just to try and help me out.”
So he’s one of seven students who filed suit in Arlington County Circuit Court, asking to pay in-state tuition. If the court doesn’t come through, lawyer Tim Freilich thinks state lawmakers will step up.
“There are a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who recognize that this group of students really deserves to be treated just like any other of their Virginia classmates.”
Two bills are pending in the state house to give deferred action students in-state tuition – which can be less than half the out-of-state rate -- and the governor-elect has expressed his support for the idea.