Should Undocumented Students Pay In-County Tuition?
Imagine sitting in a room when, all of a sudden, the lights go out. Without warning the ability to navigate the room and the comfort of knowing where things are is lost in darkness. If you, like me, are afraid of the dark you know the worst part is having to get up and feel through the blackness and uncertainty for the light switch. On Wednesday, April 20, 2011, the young boys and girls who are not afraid to talk about their undocumented immigrant status felt real fear when the County College of Morris board turned out the lights on what was sure to be a promising and rewarding future.
The atmosphere when I arrived to the gymnasium roughly an hour before the board meeting was filled with positivity despite the board re-voting on their decision to allow undocumented students living in New Jersey in-county/state tuition. Those who showed up did so in solidarity. There was a collective hope that the board would not amend their decision despite being asked to reconsider by the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Walking in, even I was convinced that there was no way any person could make a decision limiting education to someone. Undocumented students, supporters and I sat in CCM’s gymnasium and spoke on the subject for three hours. Testimony after testimony was given for, and against, the resolution to charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition even if they lived in New Jersey (or Morris County). Voices were raised in opposition and tears were shed in support, but the thing that remained constant was the strength that those undocumented boys and girls found in each other and themselves.
I sat in that gymnasium and listened to every speaker before the board. In the crowd I listened to men and women talk about “these mooching Mexicans” and why they should be sent back to where they came from. In doing so, I also came to find that a vast majority of the people who think this way do not grasp the severity of charging undocumented youth higher rates. As I understand the matter, asking these people to pay out-of-state tuition is going to deter a great deal of them from attending an institution of higher education (especially since they are not eligible for state or federal financial aid). I was aching to ask those in support of higher tuition rates what they thought would become of these girls and boys who no longer had college to look forward to. I wanted to make every opposition member understand that making it essentially impossible for undocumented students to go to college hurts not only them in the present, but our nation in the future. Say ‘no’ to a college degree for somebody and you are saying ‘no’ to the contributing and spending they will do down the road. You are decreasing the money they will contribute to social security and taxes. And what will become of them? You can use your imagination in seeking that answer.
As the night drew on, the board had their decision a few minutes past 10:30 p.m. By a large margin (9-2), they voted in favor of the resolution to charge undocumented students out-of-state tuition rates. I braced myself for a heartbreaking sigh of defeat but heard none amongst the crowd. All I saw were the eyes of these college hopefuls staring back at the board. There were no smiles nor frowns and few tears. There was no shouting or whispers amongst those in attendance. The body language said it all. Before the board’s vote, those whose dreams of college were on the line, joined hands and waited with hope and worry. After the board spoke no hand let go. Their faces showed bravery and a willingness to persevere through the evening’s decision. It was moving, to say the least, to hear these students talk about their next steps in their push for a college education at an affordable rate as they left the gymnasium. This light was blown out, but their strength and readiness to fight through the darkness was the most remarkable thing I have ever seen.