This piece was originally produced for NPR's Latino USA on July 14, 2017
For years, South Carolina public schools effectively denied in-state tuition and scholarships to U.S. citizens who were born to undocumented parents. Application forms didn’t recognize the possibility that a student born in South Carolina could have a different immigration status than their parents, but a class action lawsuit in 2015 changed that and the state put out new guidelines to help universities determine a student’s residency status.
It’s been two years since the new rules went into effect, but some students haven’t gotten the memo. Maria, a high school senior in Greenville, South Carolina, said she didn’t see a point in applying to public schools.
“I recently found out that since my parents are not from here that I would have to pay out-of-state regardless, just because my parents are illegal,” Maria said. “I guess I kind of lost hope for public schools here in South Carolina.”
Michelle Lapointe, senior attorney with the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, wants students like Maria to know that they are entitled to the same rights and treatment as every other U.S. citizen.
“These were students who were born and raised in South Carolina, who knew no other home other than South Carolina, who speak English with South Carolina accents, and for every other purpose were considered South Carolina residents, so the denial of the in state tuition violated equal protection law under the constitution,” Lapointe said.
Latino USA follows Maria as she navigates college applications throughout her senior year of high school.