Higher Education in SC Should be Open to All

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Earlier this week, SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center (SC Appleseed) and The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and filed a federal lawsuit to protect the rights of US born college students of immigrant parents.

Currently, the South Carolina’s higher education system classifies dependent US citizen students residing in South Carolina as “non-residents” for tuition, scholarship, and need-based grant purposes solely because of their parents’ immigration status.

One of these students is Cristal Carreno, who graduated in the top 5 percent of her South Carolina high school class. She has lived in South Carolina for 19 years. Cristal, who is currently enrolled in college, maintains a grade point average of 3.80. She was denied in-state tuition rates at state funded colleges, as well as thousands of dollars in merit-based scholarships she earned. College costs have become almost impossible for her to pay and she may be forced to drop out, due to the state’s discriminatory treatment.

Others, like Alan Velasquez, are unable to go to school at all because of this policy. Alan graduated from a South Carolina high school and has lived in the state for 17 years. After high school, he joined the Air National Guard. After completing his initial commitment to the Guard he hoped to attend college, but because of this policy high tuition and lack of financial aid puts college out of his reach.

immigration lawsuit 1Antonio Rojas Rodriguez is also unable to attend college despite living continuously in the state for about ten years. He graduated from a South Carolina high school with a 3.3 GPA. Antonio was one of two South Carolina students to receive the Hispanic Heritage Foundation Youth Award in 2014 for his commitment to community service. Antonio qualifies for the South Carolina LIFE Scholarship based on his academic achievement. However, due to being classified as an out of state resident, he is being denied his LIFE Scholarship and in state tuition rates, putting college of out of reach for him.

Even though Cristal, Alan, Antonio and many others are US Citizens and lived in South Carolina for many years they are denied in-state tuition, state scholarships, and need-based grants solely based on the federal immigration status of their parents. By forcing them to pay significantly higher out-of-state tuition rates (sometimes double or even triple the in-state rate) and denying them academic merit scholarships they earned, the state is denying them college and a place to call home. SC is their home, where each of them has lived for over a decade. They do not qualify for residency in any other state or country and SC law makes them stateless for tuition purposes.

We applaud our plaintiffs for the courage to come forward to defend not only their rights, but also the rights of others plagued by the same issue.

By filing this lawsuit on behalf of Antonio, Cristal, Alan and others similarly situated SPLC and SC Appleseed hope to change SC’s discriminatory law and policy that treats these talented college age students as second-class citizens and impedes their abilities by punishing them for a factor they cannot change – the federal immigration status of their parents.