There are 20 states in the U.S. that allow for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students to receive in-state tuition at colleges and universities in their respective state. Tennessee is not one of them.
Former ETSU student Elman Gonzalez moved to the United States with his family from Honduras when he was 3-years-old and he became a DACA student when he was a sophomore in high school.
DACA is a program implemented by former President Barack Obama in 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.
The Tuition Opportunity Bill was a bill in the Tennessee General Assembly this year that would give DACA students, who have attended a Tennessee high school for at least two years, in-state tuition for universities in the state.
The bill passed two lawmaker panels but failed to pass by one vote in a third panel earlier this month.
DACA has been beneficial to Gonzalez.
“DACA meant a lot to me because it gave me opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have, like access to a driver’s license and a work authorization card. With those, I could work legally and pretty much fit into society,” he said. “This bill means a lot me because instead of paying $13k per semester for out-of-state tuition, I could pay $4k in-state tuition.”
Gonzalez has been working with the TIRRC, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, this year to try get the bill passed.
“The bill almost passed two years ago, failing by one vote. After it didn’t pass, I really wanted to get involved this year in any way that I could,” he said. “TIRRC has helped a lot in allowing me to have a voice and to share my story with congressman and news outlets. Unfortunately, it failed this year in one of the committees, but we are determined to fight again next year.”
Gonzalez urges students who would like to see the Tuition Opportunity Bill pass to get in contact with Tennessee’s legislators.
“Once voting time comes around next year, calling the congressman to support the bill would really help,” he said. “Sending letters also helps, There’s a lot of people pushing senators to vote no on the bill, so we need to make sure there’s more pressure to vote yes than there is to vote no.”