In light of congressional gridlock on immigration reform, many states legislatures have taken matters into their own hands, some moving to alleviate hardships for undocumented migrants and others to police and punish them. One arena where this battle has played out has been over access to higher education. Undocumented students have extremely low rates of university attendance, largely because they have to to pay international student tuition rates, are unable to access financial aid, or cannot legally work.
Beginning in 2001 with Texas and California, at least 20 states have succeeded in passing varied tuition equity legislation to increase access to higher education, through access to in-state tuition, eligibility for certain scholarships or access to state financial aid. These states include, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.
By contrast, other states have created harsher restrictions for undocumented students. Arizona, Georgia, and Indiana, for instance, have all barred undocumented students from qualifying for in-state tuition or from receiving any type of financial aid. Additionally, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina have both taken measures to limit undocumented students from enrolling in public post-secondary institutions.
State action on tuition equity represents a significant step towards creating equal opportunity for immigrant youth; however, it does not confer any form of legal status for undocumented youth, which is only possible for a federal level.