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Undocumented students speak out against Say Yes to Education

Say_Yes_protestGuilford County students considering colleges and universities visited the Greensboro Coliseum on Tuesday to meet school representatives during a free reception and forum. The event was hosted by the Say Yes to Higher Education’s Guilford chapter from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.Those who attended had to walk by a group of young undocumented students. The students held signs that said, “Say Yes to me,” “We want to go to college too,” and “Our education counts.”The young protestors are a part of a group of undocumented Guilford County high school students and recent graduates. They are called Voces de Guilford Dreamers, and their goal is to work for equal opportunities for all Guilford County students to continue their education and afford college.Say Yes to Education is a national nonprofit organization that gives students access to “last dollar” tuition scholarships for college and postsecondary programs. The nonprofit will aid hardworking high school graduates by filling in gaps in their ability to pay for college.However a vast majority of undocumented students cannot take part in Say Yes to Education. One of the requirements to get scholarships is to fill out a federal financial aid form, which undocumented students are not eligible for.Students like Araceli Garcia, Carla Lopez-Alvarez and her sister Dulce Lopez-Alvarez were in the front row when speaking to the media.Carla emotionally shared her concerns.“Say Yes told us that they would include everybody, but they’re not,” she said. “It’s really hurtful…. I personally started giving up on school. I started doing worse in class because I didn’t think there was a future for me. We want to be a part of the community that we all grew up in, this is all we know. All I know is the United States. All I know is Greensboro, North Carolina.”Director of the North Carolina Immigrant Rights Program for the American Friends Service Committee in Greensboro, Lori Khamala, was one of the protestors.“There’s been lots of community groups that they’ve (Voces de Guilford Dreamers) been meeting with but this event today illustrates how impactful and emotional it is for a student to believe they will be a recipient of the Say Yes funds after being told repeatedly this is for all Guilford County students,” said Khamala.“And then you hear students who have been here since they were two years old, since they were nine months old, who have gone through the entire Guilford County school system and are not going to benefit from this. It’s very disappointing and disheartening and we encourage them to change their policy.”Garcia stood among the undocumented students. A student from Southeast High, she wants to attend Bennett College.“That’s my dream school and if I would’ve been given the opportunity for this scholarship, I would’ve with no hesitation went towards it,” she said. “That’s my dream, that’s my one shot at obtaining what I always wanted in life. This is why my parents brought me to the land of the dreams, to obtain it.“I have worked twice as hard and I want it just as badly as any other Guilford County student. I feel like this is something that belongs to me. If I work just as hard, it should be something that should be available to me.”Carla’s sister, Dulce, hopes to spread the message for organizations and individuals to push further to include undocumented people.“The press conference was really emotional,” said Dulce. “My sister was talking. I understand the pain she’s going through and she’s more brave. She can use her words more than I can so just hearing that, and also hearing the stories of Araceli and just everybody, even my own, just thinking about it really made me emotional.”Non-student protestors like Marnie Thompson were touched by the stories of the undocumented women.“When I heard the stories in more detail, I’m more clear than ever that these are exactly the kind of young people we should be making an investment in,” she said. “How is it that we in Greensboro have constructed this program saying it’s for everybody but overlooking this whole group of really talented people? That’s just so painful.”Thompson took comfort in the support the protest has gathered.“What I’ve detected here is that a lot of people walking by and seeing the signs, they’re giving us the thumbs up.”One such supporter was Alan Duncan, a member of the Guilford County Board of Education.“I have heard their stories before and am very impressed by these students and what skills they have,” he said. “These are very talented kids and they are put in a very difficult position and we want to support them.”“Our board has supported their efforts for probably about two years now since we passed a resolution unanimously asking the state to lower tuition for the in state rates of these students and that has not yet happened, we still remain hopeful it might happen at some point.”Voces de Guilford Dreamers will keep working to get Say Yes to fix their policies on undocumented students and 2016 graduates. They hope to spread the truth about the nonprofit to begin the push for change.Want to get involved?Voces de Guilford has social media accounts: facebook.com/vocesdeguilforddreamers and vocesdeguilford on IG and Snapchat.