RALEIGH (WTVD) --They just earned diplomas at North Carolina high schools, but it's proving much harder to get to the next level. A group of young un-documented immigrants hit the halls at the North Carolina General Assembly Tuesday, fighting for in-state college tuition - despite the fact they were brought to the US illegally by their parents.
"We want to be able to go to college and be able to give back to a state that has given so much to us," explained 19-year-old Jessica Contreras.
Contreras believes in her cause so strongly that she and her group walked to Raleigh from Charlotte to make their point in a 9-day, 140 mile journey.
"We can't apply for loans. We can't get financial aid, and all we wanna do is just be able to have a higher education," she explained.
They went door-to-door at the legislature Tuesday telling lawmakers like Republican Rep. Craig Horn that North Carolina's the home they know, but their un-documented status is pricing them out of higher education. They found a sympathetic ear.
"I need you! We need your participation in this process!" said Horn.
But afterwards, Horn pointed to what he believes is the harsh reality: much of the opposition to immigration reform is fueled by race and discrimination.
"There seems to be a view that if you give something to this group, you're taking something away from that group," said Horn.
Influential Senate Republican Tom Apodaca found himself suddenly surrounded by the undocumented grads. He said he doesn't believe there's any appetite for immigration reform in the General Assembly right now.
"Not at this time. We're going home. We're here for the short session, hopefully only the next couple weeks," he explained.
He also pointed to the realities of the state's current budget situation.
"We just received a House budget with a 92 million dollar cut to our university system. It's hard to justify opening it up more," he said.
But critics say they don't buy it. The liberal-leaning NC Justice Center is set to release a report this week, arguing in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants could actually save the state money.
The students say they'll keep trying to win lawmakers over.
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