published Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Tennessee: Illegal status, uncertain future

Audio clip

Bryan Griffith

One afternoon, while talking to her high school counselor about her college opportunities, Abril Marcial suddenly realized her education opportunities were very limited because she is in the country illegally.

“The only thing that says I’m Mexican is the color of my skin and a birth certificate that says I was born there,” said the 17-year-old Mexico native, who has lived in the United States since she was 3.

“Everything was fine until she started looking for college options,” said her mother, Natalia Marcial, speaking Spanish. “We went to see a lawyer, and he basically told us her only option is to return to Mexico before her 18th birthday and try to apply from over there.”

Georgia and Tennessee are among the majority of states nationwide that charge out-of-state tuition to undocumented students and because Abril’s mother is a single-parent, she said she can’t afford paying the higher fees. Her legal status also disqualifies her from getting any state or federal school loans.

Abril is among an estimated 2 million undocumented children in the United States, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Each year, 65,000 undocumented children graduate from high school.

Abril, who has been an “A” student and involved in different extracurricular activities, including soccer and Junior ROTC, says her greatest dream is to serve in the military and go to college to study criminal justice.

“I want to serve my country. I would be an excellent soldier,” she said. “The only thing that separates me from an American is a piece of paper.”

Roberta Warmack, president of the Latinos for Education and Justice Organization in Calhoun, Ga. asked, “If we don’t educate our young people, what is our future going to look like?”

“It doesn’t make sense to deny a person an education they want or need,” she said. “They serve as excellent mentors to other students.”

dreaming of change

Since 2005 Congress has introduced several times a federal bill that would help minors like Abril, but so far it hasn’t passed.

The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act would allow undocumented children who entered the United States before age 16 and lived here at least five years to gain conditional legal status and eventual citizenship if they attend college or join the military for at least two years.

Opponents of the bill say the government shouldn’t reward illegal immigration.

“A lot of people tried to frame it as helping the children when it really is not,” said Bryan Griffith with the Center for Immigration Studies. “It’s made for college students and those older than college students. It’s an amnesty for adults, not for children.”

For a lot of undocumented students, the main issue when trying to attend college is the out-of-state tuition fees, local Hispanic advocates say.

“A lot of them say, ‘Why do I even want to finish high school if I know I’m not going to be able to continue my education?’” said America Gruner, founder of the Coalition of Latino Leaders in Dalton, Ga.

In 2007, Georgia’s Board of Regents instructed colleges and universities in the state not to give lower in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants to be in compliance with the Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act.

In Tennessee, the Board of Regents also has established that undocumented students can’t establish domicile in Tennessee, regardless of how long they’ve lived in the state.

“Anyone, including undocumented aliens may submit an application to attend Chattanooga State,” said Eva Lewis, a spokeswoman at Chattanooga State Technical Community College. “However, before being admitted, they must meet the admission requirements that all U.S. citizens must meet prior to admission.”

Flor, a Calhoun, Ga., resident who also will graduate from high school in May, has decided to start at a community college despite the out-of-state tuition rates.

“I want to be an interior designer and get a degree in business management. I know it’s going to be harder, but I’m going to try my best,” said the Peru native who has lived in the United States nine years. She asked not to be identified by her last name because she’s in the country illegally.

Abril, the first one in her family to finish high school, said she’ll return to Mexico before her birthday in July. Being in the country illegally as an adult potentially could bar her for from the country three or 10 years if there’s a possibility to gain legal status in the future.

“I’m scared to go back,” Abril said with tears in her eyes. “I don’t know anyone over there. What if they don’t give me a visa to come back? What am I going to do?”

about Perla Trevizo...

Perla Trevizo joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007 and covers immigration/diversity issues and higher education. She holds a master’s degree in newswire journalism from Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid, Spain, and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Texas. In 2011 she participated in the Bringing Home the World international reporting fellowship program sponsored by the International Center for Journalists, producing a series on Guatemalan immigrants for which she ...

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dsc68 said...

Abril needs to check with Dalton State in Dalton, GA. They have various programs for students in her situation. 706.272.4436 is the number to Enrollment services.

March 7, 2009 at 8:23 a.m.
Twinkie1 said...

These young people need to look toward their parents for the situation they have found themselves in. Had their parents come to this country legally, the young high school graduates would not have a problem getting instate tuition. I have had enough of hearing those who are here illegally, who have taken advantage of our government programs such as education, blaming American immigration law for their problems continuing their education. American immigration law was in place before they came here. They broke American immigration law to come here. The only fault of American immigration law in this instance is the lack of enforcement. The rest of the blame should lie squarely on the shoulder of those who bring their children here illegally and those who illegally give them jobs and a reason to come.

March 7, 2009 at 2:37 p.m.
DelawareBob said...

"Opponents of the bill say the government shouldn’t reward illegal immigration."

This is absolutly correct. This illegal Immigration has caused more problems than anyone could have ever imagined. When are these problems going to end? Just who do these ILLEGAL ALIENS think they are to snub their nose at out laws? Yes, WHO?

Now I can't say the ILLEGAL ALIENS are completely to blame for the shape of our economy, but they are a BIG part of the problem. The ILLEGAL ALIENS send BILLIONS upon BILLIONS out of this Country every year, money we will NEVER see again. Does this help our economy?

How about the BILLIONS the American taxpayers fork out for the ANCHOR BABIES, the schooling of them, the medical care and the list goes on, and on, and on.

How about the MILLIONS upon MILLIONS paid to jail ILLEGAL ALIENS for the crimes, then the cost to deport them. Does this help our economy?

Then you have these activist groups, the Catholic Church and the ACLU that want AMNESTY for these ILLEGAL ALIENS. It would be absolute suicide for this Country if AMNESTY were granted to the 20 million or so ILLEGAL ALIENS. We have more and more people out of work everyday and they want to add another 20 million to this Country? I say, "NO"!

If AMNESTY were ever granted to these 20 million ILLEGAL ALIENS, you can bet big money that 3 years from now, there would be ANOTHER 3-5 million ILLEGAL ALIENS demonstrating on our soil for AMNESTY.

An end MUST come to this illegal immigration. The perfect tool we have so far is E-Verify. It MUST be used by ALL businesses and Government Social Services. EVERY employee must be checked! If they are illegal, they are to be dismissed!

I believe it is time for all 50 States to pass a State law, like Arizona, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and a few others. It is time for these ILLEGAL ALIENS to go back to their home Country and get out of this Country. The problems they are causing will not go away until the ILLEGAL ALIENS are out of this Country. I think that is plain to see.

Does Tennessee have a State Illeal Imigration Law? If not, WHY NOT!

March 7, 2009 at 4:54 p.m.
oldgrouch said...

I've worked in this country for over 50 years, I received a honorable discharge from the U S Army, Now at the age of 67 I'm having a hard time keeping my home, why because most of the money is going to illegals. When my wife was hit with a sudden illness 5years ago I watched as our retirement money went to pay the bills,Did the government offer to help, H**l no, but when an illegal goes to the hospital they get the royal treatment at our expense. Am I upset ,you can bet your bottom dollar I am. It's time to put a stop to it and take care of our own!

March 7, 2009 at 8:18 p.m.
Sickofcriminals said...

Cry me a river.Her mother has been here 14 years and still can't speak English.This girl is a criminal,pure and simple.North Georgia hospitals are being bankrupted by "undocumented guest workers" downloading baby after baby free of charge.Yea,let's reward the criminals by giving them programs to help with tuition costs.After all,it's only tax money,right? The silver lining to the crashing economy is the criminals have found out that finding employment as a criminal is easy,but getting unemployment pay isn't,so they're being forced to go back to their real home.

March 7, 2009 at 8:31 p.m.
copperpossum said...

Mamas been in U.S. FOURTEEN YEARS,still no habla? Could she learn ONE word per day from daughter? Naw-too much trouble,go find me a translator.

March 7, 2009 at 8:55 p.m.
j2006n said...

Uhm... I must've missed something in this article. If she is ILLEGAL, why is she worried about going to college? Why is she even in the country? That's one of the problem's in this country, is catering to everyone's need's when in fact they don't even qualify for it. That's one of the reasons we are in the situation we are in. Every time I fill out an application for a job, one question always appears and it asks "can you present evidence of your U.S. Citizenship or proof of your legal right to live and work in this country?" Hmmmm..... I wonder!!!!

March 11, 2009 at 6:23 p.m.
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