A group of immigrants who graduated from Virginia high schools are filing a lawsuit Tuesday in an attempt to overrule a decision by the State Council of Higher Education that makes them ineligible for cheaper in-state tuition rates. They say they should be eligible to pay lower in-state tuition.
The State Council of Higher Education however has determined they are ineligible for in-state tuition rates at Virginia's public colleges and universities.
Currently, 16 states have provisions allowing for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church will file a lawsuit in Arlington County Circuit Court Tuesday on behalf of seven immigrant students from Virginia, all of whom have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status by the federal government.
The students are asking the court to overrule SCHEV’s interpretation of the law, and recognize that DACA recipients should be eligible for much cheaper in-state tuition rates, just like other Virginia high school graduates.
“I’ve lived here in Virginia since I was five years old,” said student Lube Villarroel Orellana, who is now 18, a news release from the Legal Aid Justice Center in Falls Church. “I graduated from Annandale High School and now study at Northern Virginia Community College. But because I have to pay out-of-state tuition rates, I can only study part-time, and it will take me many more years to get my degree.”
“Our parents work extra hard to pay our out-of-state tuition,” said Ramiro Vazquez Morales, 20, who graduated from Monticello High School in Albemarle County. “I have only been able to attend school part-time because I also have to work in order to help pay for my tuition.”
The federal DACA program was announced in June 2012. As DACA recipients, the students are authorized to work in the United States, can get a Social Security number, are eligible for a Virginia driver’s license, and can renew their DACA status indefinitely.
“I’m paying out-of-state tuition rates at Piedmont Community College, even though I’ve been here in Virginia since I was four years old,” said Miriam Garcia Aleman, 19, who graduated from Monticello High School in Albemarle County earlier this year. “My parents work hard to pay for my studies. Obtaining in-state tuition would make things much easier on my family financially.”
“I have to work 40 hours a week in order to attend school part-time while paying out-of-state tuition,” said Ivan Soto Navez, 21, a graduate of Harrisonburg High School. “I was forced to take a year off of school in order to earn money for tuition. I worry about not being able to pay for the next semester at out-of-state tuition rates.”
“This case is about Virginia high school graduates wanting to continue their education here in Virginia,” said Tim Freilich, Legal Director of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s Immigrant Advocacy Program. “Virginia should be helping these students realize their dreams, not putting unnecessary obstacles in their path.”
“We’re just asking the court to take a look at existing Virginia law,” added Legal Aid Justice Center attorney Simon Sandoval-Moshenberg. “We think the court will agree that under existing law, these students should be eligible for in-state tuition benefits, just like their other Virginia classmates.”
The lawsuit is part of a broad, multi-pronged effort to extend eligibility for in-state tuition to Virginia residents who have been granted DACA status. On behalf of its clients, Legal Aid Justice Center will also be asking the incoming McAuliffe administration to take executive action. Students will also be asking lawmakers to take legislative action during the upcoming General Assembly session again this year.
“We urge the incoming administration and the General Assembly to make it clear that students with DACA status are eligible for in-state tuition,” said Freilich. “Current policy is hurting Virginia’s students right now. If our elected officials want to make this change happen, they can take the lead and get it done. There is no need to wait for a decision in this case.”
For more on this issue, visit "Undocumented Student Overview," by the National Conference of State Legislatures.