Published January 23, 2014

The office of North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has decided that undocumented students who benefit from the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program do not qualify to pay in-state tuition at public universities and community colleges.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to state Rep. Marcus Brandon, who last month requested a legal opinion on the issue, the AG's office said reducing tuition for undocumented students would require a change in state law.

At present, DACA-qualified undocumented students can attend public institutions, but they must pay tuition at the out-of-state rate, which is more than double that paid by North Carolina residents.

To qualify as a resident in terms of enrolling in institutions of higher learning, North Carolina law sets forth that the student must prove his legal residence in the United States and that he has lived in the state for the past 12 months.

With regard to the DACA beneficiaries, although Cooper had expressed the opinion in the past that they have "legal presence" in the country, the attorneys in his office who reviewed the matter concluded otherwise.

Undocumented students and their allies in recent years have undertaken several campaigns in support of equality in education and in 2013 presented to the General Assembly a bill that would authorize in-state tuition for "Dreamers."

However, that bill failed and it is not known if it will be presented again this year.

Viridiana Martinez, the founder of the NC Dream Team, called Thursday's decision by Cooper "politically motivated," a reference to the fact that the Democratic attorney general has aspirations to run for governor in 2016.

"We will continue fighting and we'll analyze our next actions, which could include a lawsuit," Martinez told Efe.

Nineteen states have approved laws allowing undocumented students to pay the same tuition at universities as other legal residents.

"The federal government has recognized our presence, it has given us permission to work, Social Security and now the state is saying that we don't reside here legally, although we've lived in North Carolina for most of the time. We know that the law is on our side," Martinez, who is of Mexican origin, emphasized.

Estimates are that more than 15,000 young people in North Carolina need DACA and another 20,000 have applied for the immigration benefit. EFE