★ Rhode Island Passes Historic Student Success Act

Joins 17 other states in the U.S. that legislates in-state tuition rates to undocumented students
Stacks Image 127463
June 29, 2021 — (Providence, RI) Rhode Island state legislators passed a breakthrough bill that will assist thousands of undocumented immigrants to pursue higher education. The Rhode Island Student Success Act (2021-H 5238) codifies an existing policy, submitted by Governor Lincoln Chaffee and passed in 2011 by the Rhode Island Board of Higher Education (RIBoG), that granted in-state tuition rates to all Rhode Islanders seeking to obtain a college degree in the state, regardless of immigration status.

Like the policy, under the legislation, students would be eligible to pay in-state tuition if they attended high school for three or more consecutive years; continue to reside in the state, graduated from high school or received a high school equivalency diploma from Rhode Island; and filed an affidavit stating that the student has filed an application for lawful immigration status.

“This is an issue that I am extremely passionate about. As someone who came to this country with very little, I know first-hand the opportunities that a good education can bring to someone who is willing to work hard,” said Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence), who sponsored by bill. “With limited skills-based jobs, improving college affordability is becoming a bigger priority for everyone. And we have so much untapped potential that has come into our state from all over the world.”

Under the legislation, students would be eligible if they attended high school for three or more consecutive years; continue to reside in the state, graduated from high school or received a high school equivalency diploma from Rhode Island; and filed an affidavit stating that the student has filed an application for lawful immigration status.

The Coalition of Advocates for Student Opportunities (CASO), leading supporters of the measure, states that it would give immigrant students who may have a hard time in school the incentive to graduate and attend a college or university. Eventually, these students will become tax-paying residents of Rhode Island and contribute to the economy of our state
Stacks Image 127501
Above: José González, Michelle DePlante, Marta V. Martínez and Roberto González
Members of CASO, had been working independently for passage of in-state tuition legislation for over 19 years. In 2008, CASO was formed by immigration attorney Roberto González, Marta V. Martínez, who, as head of the César Chavez Scholarship Fund, had been providing mini-grants to undocumented students since 2004, and José González a Providence Schools employee and education advocate. In 2009 they were joined by Michelle (DePlante) Carr of the International Institute of Rhode Island, Kara Cebulko, a professor at Providence College, and Tam Tran, a graduate student who helped pass in-state tuition in California before enrolling at Brown University.

The CASO team joined Rep. Díaz in 2009 and helped craft the language of the bill that exists today. Members of CASO were instrumental in working closely with Gov. Chaffee and then the RIBoG in the passage of the policy in 2011.

Today, by way of the Tam Tran Scholarship Fund (so named after the untimely death of Tran in 2010), CASO continues to offer scholarships to undocumented students and provides support to students as they enroll in all local colleges – public or private – who find themselves unable to maneuver through challenging hurdles that may arise.

Martínez, who has continued to work alongside Rep. Díaz for the past 17 years of submitted legislation, said she felt deep emotion watching the bill being presented before committee and then the floor. “It was bittersweet witnessing passage of the bill this year. For years members of CASO, students and community allies filled committee rooms and testified in person before various committees, only to leave feeling defeated. This year, as I sat in front of my computer screen, I held the original sign I made 19 years ago and then cried as the final vote took place! I yearned to hug other members of CASO, plus some of the students who would benefit from the legislation. Instead, I began sending text messages to as many of the students who would be directly affected as soon as the final vote was counted.”

Martínez adds that the passage of the The Rhode Island Student Success Act is first of many priorities for the undocumented community of Rhode Island, and that includes gaining rights to a driver’s license. “We hope this can be accomplished early next legislative season.”
Stacks Image 127244
Stacks Image 127360
Stacks Image 127446

Inspiring Stories |
Yaruska Ordinola

Stacks Image 127449

Inspiring Stories |
Victor Morente

The Coalition of Advocates for Student Opportunities (CASO) is a volunteer group of concerned citizens and students in Rhode Island that promote and support a pathway to higher education for undocumented students in the State of Rhode Island.

Through this website, CASO provides resources including information about In-State Tuition, legislation and educational information for young undocumented and
DACAmented individuals, educators and other allies.

We also manage the Tam Tran Scholarship Fund, the only fund in Rhode Island created with the sole purpose of providing financial assistance by way of scholarships to undocumented students in Rhode Island.