Skyline High School senior Javier Contreras has wanted to be a Wolverine ever since he can remember. After emigrating with his parents from Mexico at the age of four, he’s been working hard to achieve what many people come to the United States hoping to find: a better life. Fourteen years later, the next step in achieving that goal is being threatened because Contreras has had to make tuition equality for many undocumented immigrants a major factor in choosing a college.
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“It’s frustrating because I’ve worked really hard and people don’t understand why this isn’t an option for me,” Contreras said at a Coalition for Tuition Equality rally Monday in front of the Fleming Administration Building. “If I got into Michigan right now, I couldn’t afford it, especially because I can only apply for private scholarships and there aren’t many of those.”
The University faces a complicated legal path to authorizing tuition equality — facing a number of legal hurdles and complications that could derail the process or drag the University into costly lawsuits. However, Contreras said he “would do whatever it took” to make his dream a reality if policy was changed.
Contreras applied to the University and is also considering Western Michigan University and Washtenaw Community College because they charge in-state rates for undocumented Michigan residents. He now has some documentation, but won’t be able to work or get in-state tuition rates until he has a green card or becomes a citizen, something he doesn’t foresee happening.
“I have a good feeling something will change, whether it be really big or small, but we’ve been talking about reform for so long, so I’ll kind of believe it when I see it,” he said. “There have been times when I feel like all the work I’ve been doing isn’t really worth it, but as long as there’s a small chance of reform, you have to be optimistic and just hope for the best.”
Contreras’ story was part of a number of conversations on tuition equality and access to the University that took place on Monday.
About 60 students from different CTE member organizations on campus gathered in front of the Fleming Administration Building on Monday, presenting letters and making speeches to show their support for tuition equality.
LSA senior Luz Meza stood out in the rain for over an hour, sharing her experience with immigration issues.
“I’ve been very lucky and worked very hard to get into Michigan and everyone should have that same opportunity, “ she said.
Meza has been involved with several minority-rights groups on campus since her freshman year, and has been motivated by both her peers and her past to continue advocating.
She feels that their voices were heard and is “optimistic” that the administration will respond favorably.
“I really trust that our administration really has a heart and they care about this as much as I do,” Meza said. “I think that deep inside, Mary Sue Coleman and the regents do believe that we do want these students here, and we do want to give them that opportunity.”
Meza said “politics” are preventing tuition equality from taking effect, but believes advocacy will lead to change.
“We have to continue to be strong and show everyone that we can’t be swept under the rug,” Meza said. “No matter what happens, we won’t stop until everyone has the opportunities they deserve.”
Across campus at Palmer Commons, Martha Pollack, the University’s vice provost for academic and budgetary affairs, spoke before the Senate Assembly to discuss the measures the University was taking to address rising tuition costs.