Mercer student seeks in-state tuition for immigrants with temporary resident status

alopez@macon.comDecember 5, 2013 

DECATUR -- Raymond Partolan, a Mercer University junior, woke up at 5 a.m. Thursday to drive from Macon to the DeKalb County Courthouse.

Partolan, 20, is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the state’s university system’s Board of Regents.

The plaintiffs want the Board of Regents to grant in-state tuition at Georgia’s public universities to immigrants approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which granted temporary U.S. resident status to some young immigrants.

Partolan, whose family is from the Philippines, spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs at a news conference immediately before a court hearing Thursday.

“The students that are standing around me,” he said, “are hard-working individuals and creative leaders that want nothing else but to go to college and to give back to this community they feel has given them so much.”

Charles Kuck, the plaintiffs’ attorney said they are suing to get the Board of Regents to follow its own rules.

“If someone has lawful presence in the state and in the United States,” Kuck said, “they are allowed to get in-state tuition.”

Immigrants enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program “have lawful presence in the United States as indicated by the Department of Homeland Security,” Kuck said.

Thursday, Superior Court Judge Mark Anthony Scott ruled to postpone for 60 days making a decision in the defendant’s motion to move the court proceedings to Fulton County, where the Board of Regents headquarters is located.

It is unclear once the change of venue motion issue is cleared how the Board of Regents will rebut the lawsuit’s argument, Kuck said.

Living in fear

Partolan’s parents were denied permanent residency in 2003 after living legally in the United States since 1994 on skilled worker visas. Originally from the Philippines, they arrived in the country when Partolan was 1.

He remembers that when he was in the fifth grade his parents told him not to tell his friends he was an “illegal alien.”

The difference between him and his American citizen peers did not hit him hard until high school, he said.

Partolan, who is the current Mercer Student Government Association president and who graduated with a 4.0 grade point average from Central High School, feared arrest and deportation every time he got behind the wheel of a car.

In high school, even bigger than his jealousy of other kids with driver’s licenses was his all-consuming fear that he would not be able to attend college. How could he afford to pay out-of-state tuition, he wondered.

He was depressed and attempted suicide, he said Thursday.

A turning point came when he got involved in the immigration reform activist community the summer before his senior year at Central. Soon afterward, Mercer awarded him a full-tuition scholarship.

Finally in June 2012, the Obama administration passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which granted temporary resident status to immigrants who met certain criteria, such as those under 31 who arrived in the United States before their 16th birthdays and who were in school or had graduated at the time of application.

In November 2012, less than six months since becoming a legal temporary U.S. resident, Partolan received a Georgia driver’s licence and was granted permission to work.

He said he realizes now that he is lucky. Of the 39 plaintiffs in the Board of Regents lawsuit, Partolan is one of two enrolled in a university. The others can’t afford it, he said.

Still, he knows the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is not a permanent solution. He wants to go to law school, he said, but without permanent legal status, he will be barred from practicing his profession in Georgia.

Hope remains for comprehensive reform

About 25 immigration reform activists and supporters stood outside the DeKalb County Courthouse after Thursday’s hearing in the lawsuit against the Board of Regents.

Holding signs, the activists chanted.

“When our education is under attack, what do we do?” Partolan yelled.

“Stand up, fight back!” they responded.

One of the activists, Yovany Diaz, 22, of Alpharetta, was arrested alongside a second young man in early November for disrupting a Board of Regents meeting in Atlanta.

Partolan said he can’t afford to take the civil disobedience route.

Instead, he is an active speaker in the immigration reform movement and a front man in fielding questions from the media for the group, he said.

He keeps track of the progress made for immigrants at the national level. He cited the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed by the U.S. Senate earlier this year that would grant a legalization program to all 11 million immigrants lacking permanent residency.

Partolan said he is hopeful for the future.

“I’m sure a lot of other people across the nation are watching immigration and how it plays out on the national stage,” he said.

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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