Guest blogger Rodrigo Huertas is a member of the Greater Boston Chapter of the Student Immigrant Movement.
I moved from Guatemala to the United States on July 13th, 2010. This means that by Wednesday I will have officially lived in this country for five years. On that same day, July 15th, 2015, the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) along with one hundred undocumented students, allies and educators will make their way to the Massachusetts statehouse to testify in support of a tuition equity bill for the Joint Committee of Higher Education. If this bill were to pass, it would grant instate tuition and state financial aid to undocumented students. I would benefit from this bill, and so would my sister, and so would thousands of other immigrant youth in the state.
I moved to this country when I was 16, with the typical notion of the American Dream in mind: work hard, excel in school, save money, and you will succeed. And so when I moved: I found a job, I worked every day after school, I did all my homework and studying at night, and saved all the money I could after paying my bills.
Nonetheless, during my senior year in high school, in the fall of 2012, my financial aid counselor panicked when I told him, “I don’t have a social security number.” I can still remember the look on his face — more frightened for himself and his perceived complicitness than for myself and my future. When the fear disappeared from his face, the only words of advice he for me were were that I could not afford an education here where I would be charged international fees; that it would be best for me to keep working, and that, in the best case scenario, I would spend the next decade of my life trying to afford a state school like the University of Massachusetts Boston.
I did not apply to colleges that winter. Nor did I ever make it to college. And this worries me.
Thousands of immigrants graduate from Massachusetts’ high schools every year, and regardless of their potential many stay behind due to their immigration status. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that of the total undocumented population between the ages of 18 to 24, only 39 percent are enrolled in an educational program. This means that 19,000 immigrant youths were left without options. This is unacceptable.
They too have put effort into their schooling. They have also worked hard alongside their families to pay rent, bills, and taxes to this country. And if given the chance to grow and become the persons they yearn to be, they will contribute back to this state. In 2010, undocumented immigrants already contributed $150 million in taxes to Massachusetts, increased access to higher education will only make this contribution larger.
In order for this to happen we need instate tuition and state financial aid. We have worked hard and have made huge sacrifices. I consciously moved away from the city, friends and family members I was born and raised with, knowing that I might never see them again. We moved to this country believing that we could achieve our dreams, and we will be one step closer to doing so with tuition equity.
After graduating from high school, I had a few interviews with a physics professor at Harvard University, who later allowed me to join his research team. I got to learn quantum mechanics principles as we prepared experiments to compress hydrogen to reach its metallic-stable state. To this date, science still intrigues me. If instate tuition and state financial aid were available in Massachusetts, I could go back to school as it would be incredibly more affordable, resume my studies in science, and one day help improve the world with some scientific findings of my own.
After our hearing on Wednesday the Massachusetts Joint Committee on Higher Education will have the opportunity to stand on the right side of history and move our Tuition Equity Bill forward. Not doing so would be irrational and unethical. After all education is a human right, we are people and we deserve better.