Citizen Students with Undocumented Parents Sue South Carolina


Students who are legal US citizens but do not have proof that their parents are in the country legally are being denied college scholarships and are being forced to pay out-of-state tuition in South Carolina.

These would-be college students have filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of South Carolina, charging the state with unconstitutionally denying about 170 citizen children of unauthorized immigrants their rights, according to Fox News Latino. A similar policy in Florida was overturned by a federal judge in 2011.

The suit is based on the manner in which the Commissioner on Higher Education regulates the residency of students who are not yet living independently. Where tuition is concerned, the residency of dependent children is based on the status of their parents or legal guardian.

The named plaintiffs are three South Carolina high school graduates who have lived in the state between 10 and 19 years. The suit is being filed against the executive director and each board member of the commission, College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell, and Trident Technical College President Mary Thornley.

Qualified and deserving students have had to pay out-of-state tuition, which adds dramatically to the amount of tuition for in-state students. Antonio Rojas Rodriguez, who graduated with a 3.3 GPA and wants to major in business at the College of Charleston, was caught by surprise.

"It was a let-down," said Rodriguez, who was born in Mississippi and has lived in South Carolina with his mother for a decade. He said he's heard for years to "‘work hard, do what's right, and you will have opportunities.' I feel I did that. I did my best. … We're not trying to bring trouble. We just want what we worked for."

Rodriguez, one of the three named plaintiffs, was ecstatic when he received his acceptance letter from the College of Charleston this spring. He had already visited the campus twice and was looking forward to studying not only business, but economics as well so he could have his own Mexican restaurant in the future, reports Deanna Pan for The Post and Courier.

"I just assumed," he said. "I just thought I'd been living here for 10 years. I have a driver's license. This is home. This is my state. All my family, friends are here. I had no idea that something like this existed."

The suit is being filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center. Michelle Lapointe, a senior staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, says this policy is putting college out of reach for her clients and for students in the same situations by doubling or even tripling the cost of attendance to a South Carolina college or university.

"What are we saying to our bright college students? We don't want you to be educated? We don't want you to contribute financially to our state through having higher education and higher job skills?" said Tammy Besherse, a staff attorney at South Carolina Appleseed. "You're punishing these college students for something they cannot control."

Seanna Adcox of Associated Press writes that citizen students with undocumented parents also cannot receive lottery-backed state scholarships, need-based grants, or tuition assistance.

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