Yesterday, we Dreamers won a huge victory for equality in Michigan. The Regents of the University of Michigan voted 6-2 to grant in-state tuition to all Michigan students who meet certain basic educational requirements, regardless of their immigration status. This victory is the direct result of the work of Dreamers and immigrants’ rights advocates across the state, including Sueños, an organization at the University of Michigan that I’m a part of; the ACLU; the Coalition for Tuition Equality; and others.
I cannot begin to explain what this win means to me. I first came to the United States when I was 4 years old and have been here ever since. I don’t remember much, if anything, of Mexico, and I’m thankful for my father’s decision to bring me and my brother over so we could have a good education. America is my home.
Growing up in Ann Arbor, I’ve always looked at the University of Michigan as the ideal university; at heart, I’m very much a Wolverine. It’s true that there’s never been a moment in which I wasn’t aware of my immigration status. But I kept positive and worked hard in high school, maintaining a 3.86 GPA and getting involved in clubs like the Red Cross Club, Latino Student Union, Multicultural Club, Rising Scholars, National Honor Society, National Society Of High School Scholars, and Varsity soccer. I was even declared Skyline High School’s 2012 Homecoming King.
Before I went into my senior year, President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which grants Dreamers like me permission to live in the United States and apply for a work permit. The announcement filled me with absolute joy and gave me hope that I could focus my senior year on applying to colleges and scholarships, rather than stress out over being undocumented.
And when I finally got the acceptance email from the University of Michigan, I freaked out: the fact that I was good enough made me so happy! But that feeling of joy soon ended when I realized I could never afford it. Because of my immigration status, the university planned to charge me tuition as an international student—even though I had been living in Michigan for 14 years. This fall, students from Michigan will pay $13,142 to attend the University of Michigan, while non-residents will pay $40,392. I could never afford to pay three times more than an in-state applicant. My heart sank to know that all my accomplishments would go to waste and that although I’d lived in Michigan since kindergarten, the University of Michigan would fail to give me and students like me, the equal opportunity I needed.
But all of that changed yesterday. Under the new policy, students who attend a Michigan middle school for two years, then attend a Michigan high school for at least three years before graduating, will qualify for in-state tuition as long as they start their college within 28 months of graduation. The University of Michigan thus joins a growing chorus of 17 states with laws or policies that level the playing field and make education affordable to students regardless of their immigration status.
I thank the Regents for their courageous decision. It’s great to see them set such a great example and lead the way for more universities to follow in their footsteps. I know this policy will bring great minds into the University of Michigan system and help it grow. To be sure, the policy isn’t perfect—the school attendance requirements will leave out many Dreamers who moved to Michigan later in their lives or were brought into the country at an older age. And there’s the issue of scholarships and financial aid—will Michigan provide the help students badly need to achieve their dreams, as states like California, New Mexico, and Texas have done?
For now, we celebrate our victory for equality, a victory that will help students like me achieve our greatest goals. Sí Se Pudo! (Yes We Could!)