Eight Arrested Following Protest for Tuition Equality for Undocumented Students

Jennifer Calfas et al., Michigan Daily, April 17, 2013

Led by a University Police officer, Public Policy senior Kevin Mersol-Barg crossed State Street, hands cuffed behind his back. Before entering the squad car, he uttered a few words as chants advocating in-state tuition equality were echoed across the street.

“We won’t rest until tuition equality is passed,” he said.

Mersol-Barg—who is a columnist at The Michigan Daily—was one of eight protesters arrested after blocking traffic for around 30 minutes outside the Michigan Union at State Street and South University Avenue. About 40 people originally impeded traffic, though many retreated as officers from the University and Ann Arbor Police Departments approached. The arrested include six University students.

In a protest organized by One Michigan—a Detroit-based organization led by undocumented youth and allies—students and community members gathered in front of the Union to call attention to University policy on undocumented students’ tuition rates. A press release for the demonstration said students were “risking arrest” to demand in-state rates for Michigan’s undocumented residents.

At about $12,000 per year, in-state tuition is nearly $28,000 less than out-of-state rates.

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Members of the University’s Coalition for Tuition Equality participated in the event to support One Michigan, although the two groups are not affiliated. The event occurred as administrators continue to discuss possible changes to University residency policy.

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said the UMPD dispatch center received several calls at about 6:28 p.m. — including one from a University bus driver — after the students went into the street.

“Several chose to comply, and these eight got arrested,” Brown said. “They were very cooperative—they were arrested, brought to our office, processed and released.”

Brown said charges against the students won’t be clear until prosecutors review the case, but could include disorderly conduct, disobeying a police officer or impeding traffic. When asked whether prosecutors could choose to dismiss the case, she said it’s “possible, but hard to say,” noting that the students were clearly disobeying the law.

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Before taking to the streets, three local youth said they were unable to attend the University due to the tuition policy shared their stories to inspire the crowd before the march.

Javier Contreras, a senior at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, was admitted to the University but remains unsure if he can attend due to the high cost as an undocumented student. Contreras was born in Mexico, but has lived in the city since he was four years old.

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After the speakers shared their stories, the protesters marched to President Coleman’s house on South University Avenue, shouting, “Education not segregation.”

When protesters moved to the intersection of State Street and South University Avenue, immediately clogging traffic, horns blared and drivers yelled out car windows. Some drivers supported the protest, but yelled for them to clear the road.

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