RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Yanet Amado, 24, says she’s been going to school in Virginia since the third grade. That’s when she says her family moved from Mexico.
“I knew that I was undocumented since the beginning,” Amado said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t know the implications, I didn’t know the process, I didn’t know what it really meant.”
For six years now, Amado has been sharing her story at the state Capitol, telling lawmakers how she couldn’t afford to get a four-year degree without in-state tuition or financial aid. She also started the Virginia Intercollegiate Immigrant Alliance.
“It’s so important that we don’t leave behind any student because every student should have the ability to get a higher education,” Amado said.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, or DACA, let students like Amado access in-state tuition. She’s now a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May.
Thousands of students across the commonwealth lost that access after President Donald Trump eliminated DACA, a decision now being challenged in the Supreme Court.
“This has closed the doors on any new young people who would’ve been eligible to apply for DACA,” Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights Executive Director Monica Sarmiento said. “This is why this legislation is so crucial because they don’t have any other affordable access to higher education.”
A bill that has now passed in both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly could restore in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants at Virginia’s 39 public colleges and universities. To be eligible, a student has to graduate from a Virginia high school–public, private or home school–after attending for at least two years. A GED would also be accepted. Currently, the bill only applies to people who graduated by or after July of 2008.
“Ultimately, we know that this is a band aid on the bigger issue regarding immigration reform,” Sarmiento said. “We would love to see it opened up to everyone but this is one step forward.”
Sarmiento says 20 other states have already legalized this policy.
Republicans like Del. Jason Miyares are concerned the policy will decrease access for legal citizens, particularly at competitive four-year colleges.
“The children of those paying the taxes that are subsidizing these colleges, they should be the first in line to be able to go to these schools and have a slot,” Miyares said. “I can’t imagine a child being denied a chance to go to their dream school because of the legislation we just passed.”
The Senate version of this bill requires undocumented students show proof that they or their legal guardian paid at least two years of state income tax in Virginia before being eligible for the discounted rate.
Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to sign the legislation when it reaches his desk.