Undocumented U. student shares financial struggles
When Giancarlo Tello had to write his Social Security number on a form to apply for his driver’s license, he had to go home and ask his mother what the nine-digit number was for. It was then, when he was a sophomore in high school, that he learned he was an undocumented immigrant.
Tello, a Rutgers-Newark College of Arts and Sciences junior, said he came to the United States from Peru when he was 6 years old. His parents wanted to give him better opportunities at a time when the education system in Peru at the time was less than average.
“I’ve gone through [the] whole K-12 education system, participated in club activities, and then my mom told me that I’m undocumented,” Tello said. “We didn’t cross the border but overstayed our tourist visa, and we were hoping to adjust our immigration status.”
He said he did not mind his status at first as he realized he did not need a car at that time. It was not until his senior year, when he noticed a Social Security box asking to be filled out when he was looking to apply to college, that he felt the true impact of that status.
“Then I went to community college, but that’s when depression hits you,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘do I have a future in this country?’”
He said the community college charged him at an international rate because he could not prove his residency. It took him three years to pay the bill, working jobs as a tennis coach, teaching computer classes and fixing computers.
But after he graduated with an associate’s degree in applied sciences, Tello said he wanted to go further.
After he was accepted into the University, he said he could only afford one three-credit class per semester.
For that one class, Tello said he pays the out-of-state rate of more than $2,700, because he cannot provide the proper papers to prove his residency.
“I wanted to go to university with my parents push, but they charge the out-of-state tuition at Rutgers,” Tello said. “I find it ridiculous because I’ve been in-state for 17 years.”
At the rate he is going, Tello said he will not be able to graduate for some time.
“I’m already 23, and at this age I only have 63 or so credits,” he said. “It’s going to take years if I only do three credits per semester, and because of our immigration background, my family could be taken away from me any moment.”
In response, Tello joined New Jersey United Students and became a part of the New Jersey Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act Coalition.
After he met other undocumented immigrants and watched them fight for their rights, he was motivated to tell his story, he said.
“The fear is a process most people go through, I’m blessed to have my parents supporting me,” he said. “But at one point you reach a wall — a sort of feeling when you have to decide if you want to challenge this and move forward, or if you want to stay where you are.”
He said the coalition was the first movement he joined that empowered him, because he saw other undocumented immigrants speaking out about their lives, and he began to speak about his life as well.
“I knew that what I was doing was right,” he said. “There are 11 million undocumented immigrants in America. Some of my heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi — they stood up to a lot worse than I am now, and I’m inspired by that.”
Tello said he changed his major to political science so that in the future he can help more people in his community — to make a difference for struggling people and make them feel safer.
“I’m lucky I found my passion … a lot of students don’t find their passion,” he said. “I want to finish my education, and I know I’ll be able to move forward, and no one [will be able to] take that away from me.”
Spencer Klein, president of NJUS, said two bills — S2355, currently in the state senate, and A1659, in the assembly — focus on tuition equity. The first bill grants in-state tuition for college to undocumented immigrants who graduate high school or participate for three years at a N.J. high school if they meet certain criteria, such as having no criminal charges.
The second bill gives state aid and grants to a broader base to the children of undocumented immigrants to help finance their education, Klein said.
Both Klein and Tello are a part of the Rutgers University Tuition Equity Coalition, a group of University organizations that came together to raise awareness and help aid the passing of the two bills, said Margarita Rosario, an organizer in the coalition.
“We seek to have all the organizations that wish to work on in-state tuition come to a meeting,” she said. “This includes the N.J. DREAM Act Coalition, Rutgers Student Union, and New Jersey United Students.”
The coalition is trying to get University President Robert L. Barchi to sign a letter supporting the two pieces of legislation, and also involve the New Brunswick community to pass the bills as well, said Rosario, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore.
“John Connelly, president of RUSA, and Spencer Klein, the president of NJUS, tried to get a meeting with Barchi for about two months, but he has not wanted to, so they told The [Daily] Targum this and the Targum wrote an [editorial] about it and I guess Barchi saw it,” she said.
Rosario said Barchi granted them a private meeting, which then saw the creation of a town hall set to occur Feb. 21 at 7:15 p.m. at the Student Activities Center on the College Avenue campus to address the subject.
Tello said he plans to contribute to the town hall and hopes that Barchi says yes to the letter, which was authored jointly by the N.J. DREAM Act Coalition and NJUS.
Klein said if the University agrees to tuition equity for undocumented students, it has the potential to tip most other N.J. universities and colleges in favor of the bills.