Students across the University of North Carolina system this week are staging rallies and signing petitions, saying it’s time to stand up in support of illegal immigrants who want to go to college.
The N.C. Community College System is considering whether it should allow them to attend, and several bills are pending in the legislature–some that would deny illegal immigrants access to higher education and some that would guarantee their right to it.
At the federal level, members of Congress are once again considering the DREAM Act, which would allow some students who came into the U.S. illegally to attend college and earn citizenship.
“Every year more and more students are denied access to college and their lives are ruined,” said Ronald Bilbao, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior who founded the statewide College Access Coalition last year. “If people start making noise, then perhaps our politicians will do something about it.”
Under intense pressure, the community colleges have since closed their degree programs to those who can’t prove legal residency while the colleges study the issue, a process that could take more than a year. Those who oppose allowing illegal immigrant students say that only legal residents should have the benefit of scarce public resources, such as university slots.
Students who participated in this week’s events, which included rallies at UNC-CH and N.C. State University and a large walkout at UNC-Asheville, say they think all people should have the right to an education. They point out that undocumented students pay out-of-state tuition, which means their attendance at colleges and universities costs the state nothing.
“It’s just basic human rights,” said Jezzette Danielle Rivera, a junior at NCSU whose grandparents emigrated from Mexico. “Denying a person the right to learn is just unfair.”