CLEVELAND, Tenn. (April 20, 2015) -- On Tuesday, March 24, 15 students and their leaders representing Unity Center, a ministry of Broad Street United Methodist Church, boarded the church bus and headed for Nashville to participate in "Equality Day on the Hill."
The event was organized by TIRRC (Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition). More than 150 young people and adult leaders from all over Tennessee gathered at TIRRC's office. Following lobbying training and group preparation, the groups headed to The Hill to meet with representatives and senators. The newly trained lobbyists had appointments with more than 60 legislators. Following the appointments a press conference was held on the steps of the Legislative Plaza.
The group from Unity Center had appointments with Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville; Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville; Sen. John Stevens, R-Huntingdon; and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland (see photo above). The students told their stories, and shared the importance of support for the tuition equality bill. The students had an amazing learning experience in the legislative process, the importance in connecting with legislators and effectively representing a worthy cause.
In the words of one of the students Nereida Rizo: "Getting to go to the Capitol and talk to senators and representatives was a great experience. I had lots of fun and was glad to support tuition equality." Nereida is a sophomore at Cleveland High School and a youth leader at Unity Center's FUTURE After School Program.
Each year, undocumented students graduate from Tennessee high schools with hopes of continuing their education and starting a career that benefits their state and strengthens their community. However, no matter how long they have lived in Tennessee or what their potential is, undocumented students in Tennessee must pay more than three times the tuition as their classmates to attend a public college or university. They are not eligible for in-state tuition fees, even if they meet the same residency requirements. At least 19 other states have already approved tuition equality policies for undocumented students, including Texas, Florida and Kansas. Tuition equality is a fair, commonsense policy that would level the playing field for all students.
On Thursday, April 16, the bill SB612 passed the Tennessee Senate. Under the proposal, students considered lawfully present in the U.S. through a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals would qualify for in-state tuition. The bill is due to be voted on in the House of Representatives during the week of April 20.
You can help bring hope to many students by calling your representatives and urging them to vote "yes" on HB675. This "Tuition Equality" bill would expand access to higher education for undocumented students who are "lawfully present." Our students are our future, and we should make sure that every Tennessee student can pay a fair price for college.
In addition to offering a four-day per week after-school program to more than 120 diverse students, Unity Center continues of be a site location for TIRRC to provide helpful information and assistance to immigrants. In addition, Unity Center is taking steps to become a site for Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON). JFON is a program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief which engages congregations to welcome immigrants and provide free quality immigration legal services. For more information contact David Ketchersid at (423) 464-6432.
Mary Ketchersid is program administrator at the Unity Center, a ministry of Broad Street United Methodist Church in Cleveland, Tenn.
"Tuition equality sought by Unity Center students" (Cleveland Daily Banner, 4/3/15)