DREAMers on Grounds sparks social media campaign for matriculation of all undocumented students

The campaign comes amidst ongoing hearings by the General Assembly for bills related to in-state tuition for undocumented students

The Facebook frame features text saying “UVA Matriculate Undocu+ Students Now!” surrounded by monarch butterflies, a symbol synonymous with immigrants and migration. Courtesy DREAMers on Grounds Instagram

A Facebook profile frame designed by DREAMers on Grounds advocating for the University to matriculate all undocumented students unintentionally sparked a social media campaign in which now over 100 students and community members have participated. 

The frame features text saying “UVA Matriculate Undocu+ Students Now!” surrounded by monarch butterflies, a symbol synonymous with immigrants and migration. 

In supplementary infographics also shared on social media, DREAMers on Grounds defined “undocu+” — as opposed to simply “undocumented” — as a term used to “represent all other statuses that compound to marginalized individuals due to status and deny them access to education.” 

Originally created spontaneously, the frame’s designers — Steven Radilla, third-year College student and research chair of DREAMers on Grounds, and Arlena Lara-Quinteros, fourth-year College student and “Undocually” co-coordinator of DREAMers on Grounds — were surprised by the community reaction and participation.

“I’d figured it’d be all of our friends [using the frame], but seeing people who we aren’t friends with use it was pretty cool,” Radilla said. 

Although the social media engagement and campaign itself was unplanned, according to Radilla, DREAMers on Grounds has been working on a campaign pushing for the matriculation of all undocumented students, regardless of DACA status, for the past two semesters. 

While Northern Virginia Community College and George Mason University do allow the matriculation of undocumented students without DACA status, the University of Virginia does not. 

Additionally, there are very few DREAMers currently enrolled at the University. Although the University expanded financial aid to include in-state students with DACA status in the fall of 2019, that new policy benefits only 22 students, and out-of-state students with DACA status remain ineligible for financial aid.

“Lack of in-state tuition policy at the state level and the institutional discretion of U.Va prevent the matriculation of more undocu+ students,” DREAMers on Grounds said in a statement shared on social media. 

Beyond the undocu+ matriculation campaign, DREAMers on Grounds has also been advocating for in-state tuition and driver’s licenses for undocumented community members, with relevant bills currently being considered by the Virginia General Assembly in the 2020 legislative session.

Last week, bills related to in-state tuition for undocumented students passed committees in both the House and Senate. HB-1547 passed the Higher Education Sub-Committee and was later heard Feb. 3 by the full Education Committee. The bill was referred and reported out of that committee and will now be heard by House Appropriations. SB-935 passed the Education Committee and was referred to Senate Appropriations for a hearing on a date yet to be announced.

Although the Virginia 2020 Plan released by Governor Ralph Northam, D-Va., explicitly listed “in-state tuition for DREAMers,” undocumented students with DACA status are already eligible for in-state tuition rates as of April 2014. The bills currently being heard in the Virginia House and Senate would allow in-state tuition rates for eligible undocumented students regardless of DACA status. 

With the uncertain future of DACA and Temporary Protected Status programs, undocumented Virginians currently enrolled in Virginia colleges and universities could potentially lose their in-state tuition rates if they were to lose their DACA or TPS status. Furthermore, with the DACA program no longer accepting new applications as of November 2019, without the aforementioned proposed bills, this year’s and future high school graduates would be forced to pay out-of-state tuition rates.

According to a fact sheet compiled by the Virginia Coalition for Immigrant Rights, 20 states have expanded in-state tuition to include undocumented students, and tuition equity enjoys bipartisan support. 

“In-state [tuition] is incredibly important because, while it’s not specifically talking about universities adopting matriculation, the fact that students could possibly earn [in-state tuition] at the state level could incentivize the University to matriculate undocumented students,” Radilla said.

DREAMers on Grounds plans to further unpack complications with matriculation and what the term “undocu+” represents at its meeting this Wednesday. 

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