In June of 2012, President Barack Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. The executive policy allows children of undocumented immigrants to—among other things—work, drive and attend school without fear of deportation if they: were physically in the United States, under the age of 31, and had no lawful status as of June 15th, 2012; came to the United States before turning 16 years old; resided in the U.S. continuously since June, 2007; are currently in school, have graduated from high school, received a GED or are a veteran of the Armed Forces or Coast Guard; and have not been convicted of any major crimes.
I was one of those children. And like many others, I, and the U.S., benefitted from DACA. But because of state laws, I’m still at a disadvantage.
When President Obama announced the action, I was entering the senior year of high school, getting ready to start applying to colleges. While other states provide in-state tuition and/or financial aid to the children of undocumented immigrants, I live in North Carolina, which doesn’t provide such privileges. Instead, today at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, I pay my tuition as an international student. The tuition fee for an in-state resident at this school for a year is around $6,531 and around $19,702 for out-of-state residents.
There are many reasons for and against DACA students receiving in-state tuition. Of course I’m biased, but my personal story aside there a number of objective reasons why those who receive DACA should also receive the privilege of in-state tuition.
For one, in order to be granted DACA status, an individual needs to be in the United States and needs to be able to prove they are good, worthy citizens, which includes—among other things—not having a criminal record. Second, those who receive DACA status are in the United States because our parents brought us here illegally. In other words, it was never our choice to come here illegally and most of us have lived here all of our lives, going to school, speaking English, obeying U.S. laws. It isn’t until we come of college age that we stop and realize the benefits that many of our friends have—friends that we have grown up with—we are denied.
Those who are opposed to DACA (and immigration generally) argue that giving DACA students in-state tuition takes jobs away from native-born children and citizens. This is a competitive country and a competitive market and the U.S. has survived and thrived because it is a meritocracy.
If an undocumented student is able to take someone’s job that was born and raised in the U.S., then the citizen doesn’t deserve that job. If I am more qualified for a job than someone with U.S. citizenship, I should be allowed to have it regardless of my legal status. The same goes for enrolling in a university: I earned my spot to my school the same way that person sitting next to me did. We got similar grades in high school, similar SAT scores, and engaged in similar extra-curricular activities; we all earned our spots. It’s called rewarding merit. And merit should be rewarded equally, regardless of citizenship status.
The next argument often leveled against granting in-state tuition to DACA students is that it uses taxpayer’s money that should be spent on citizens and their children rather than the children of those who are here illegally. My biggest issue with this is that I—and others like me—am currently working in my state and am a taxpayer. My DACA permit has allowed me to get part-time job using a social security number, and I pay the same taxes as the next person. This is not to say that students with a DACA permit should be provided with financial aid. But as in-state residents and often taxpayers, DACA students should be eligible for in-state tuition.
We understand that DACA is a privilege, not a right, and we treat it that way. While it may not have been our choice to be brought to this country, we have become a part of this society and have a stake in its future. If we chose to go to college it’s because we want to better our education, which in turn will better our society as a whole. Because, it’s better for us and our adopted country and society to have educated documented immigrants than to have uneducated ones.
Paulina Hernandez Larumbe is a political science major at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte.