April 20, 2016

They Couldn’t Match Our Courage
The 2016 Campaign for Tuition Equality

Dear friend,

Today, the final gavel will fall in the 109th General Assembly. In a few short weeks undocumented students in the Class of 2016 will walk across the graduation stage. They’ve been holding their breath, fingers-crossed, that tuition equality would pass the House of Representatives; that this year they would finally have a fair shot at going to college. And yet, the legislature will adjourn today, without bringing the tuition equality bill up for a vote.

In 2015, the Tennessee Senate passed the tuition equality bill by an overwhelming vote of 21-12, and the bill came within just one vote of passing on the House floor. This year, we needed 18 votes in the Calendar and Rules Committee to get a second chance on the House floor.

In an election season fueled by Presidential politics and anti-immigrant rhetoric, members of the House of Representatives chose to deny thousands of students access to higher education rather than cast a vote on this bill. There were not 18 members of the Calendar and Rules Committee willing to vote for tuition equality.

We are angered and saddened by the cowardice of many in the House of Representatives. We are deeply, painfully aware of how much is at stake for students and families -- how heartbreaking and high the cost of inaction is for so many of our members.

Over the past year, and for the first time, students in even the most rural towns publicly told their story of being undocumented and their hopes of going to college. Knowing their stories are the most powerful tool in this campaign, they came out as undocumented to teachers and legislators, leaving us all in awe of their courage. We wish the members of the House of Representatives could have demonstrated half as much courage as the undocumented students who have been leading our campaign.

For the past 12 months, we’ve been organizing in every corner of this state. We’ve built a coalition of thousands, from Dreamers to educators, from Memphis to Morristown. And we didn’t stand alone -- Farmers in every county voted to include tuition equality as part of the Tennessee Farm Bureau’s 2016 legislative agenda. The Tennessee Board of Regents included our bill as one of their key policy priorities for 2016, recognizing that it’s an important step in the Drive to 55. Statewide, chambers of commerce, university presidents, faith leaders, and community groups all joined us in pushing for tuition equality. To all of our partners in this campaign, we thank you. We also want to thank our sponsors, Senator Todd Gardenhire from Chattanooga and Representative Mark White from Memphis, for demonstrating what real political courage looks like.

To the undocumented students in the Class of 2016, getting ready to graduate, we see you. You are not alone. Thousands of undocumented students in Tennessee have walked across the graduation stage before you, also effectively denied access to higher education. We’re here for you, and we won’t stop fighting for our education, our families, and dignity for all. And we hope you'll join us.

Through this four year campaign, undocumented students have found their voice and found their community. Our movement is powerful and our members are resilient. Despite the failure of the House of Representatives to take action this year, we know that history and momentum are on our side and that it’s only a matter of time before tuition equality becomes a reality in Tennessee. We will turn our anger into action, harness the courage of Dreamers across the state, and come back again for the 2017 legislative session stronger than ever. And we need you to join us. Please share this and make a commitment now, that the Class of 2016 will be the last class to graduate without tuition equality.


Cesar Bautista, Dreamer & TIRRC Youth Organizer;
Jazmin Ramirez, Dreamer & Vice President of the TIRRC Board of Directors; and
Stephanie Teatro, TIRRC Co-Executive Director


P.S. Stay tuned for more details about what’s next for the 2017 campaign and our strategy to win tuition equality. To read Chairman Mark White’s response and a quote from one of our members who is getting ready to graduate, read our press statement.


Tuition Equality Now!

We've come a long way! When the campaign for tuition equality kicked off in May of 2012, it seemed impossible that a group of students could convince Tennessee's General Assembly members to change our in-state tuition policies. 

Currently, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition at public universities, even if they grew up, went to K-12 schools, and want to work and raise their families in Tennessee. For many undocumented youth, Tennessee is the only home they've ever known, but going to college is out of reach for most because of tuition rates that are 3 times that of their peers. TIRRC's youth members decided in May of 2012 that they would work to educate members of the General Assembly and one day introduce a bill to bring tuition equality to Tennessee.

Move forward to 2015, after a series of victories that no one could have anticipated when we launched the campaign, our bill passed the Senate and went before the House of Representatives! We anxiously awaited the vote, especially TIRRC members like Adriana, one of the thousands of undocumented seniors graduating and hoping this bill would give them a chance to go to college. 


Then, we watched from the balcony as the bill failed by just one vote. Something about losing by one vote makes everyone feel more accountable -- legislators who were absent for the vote apologized profusely, saying they believed the bill would pass without them. Others who previously committed their support but voted no rushed to explain. Another representative expressed regret for voting against the bill when he saw the final tally. We all replayed over and over whether there was more we could have done.

But after that heartbreaking vote, undocumented youth in Tennessee did not give up. Their resilience, persistence, and vision over the past year has made our campaign for tuition equality stronger than ever. They still believe that by telling their stories and organizing their communities they will be able to change policy and expand opportunity. 

 Since the vote, we've been organizing undocumented students across Tennessee, from Memphis to Morristown. Lawmakers who opposed the bill have since met with directly-affected students and the coalition of groups supporting the campaign has grown. In fact, HB675 has been formally endorsed by groups like the Tennessee Farm Bureau, the Board of Regents, and chambers of commerce statewide. 

 The House of Representatives will have another chance to pass tuition equality. In April, Representatives will vote on HB675. 

We’ll need your help! 

Many of the 47 Representatives who voted no celebrated their defeat of the bill, but they underestimated the resilience of Tennessee Dreamers and the growing community of supporters that stand with them. 

Want to make history with us? 


  • Send a message to your Representative today. Click here to send a quick and easy message.
  • Sign up for our action alert email list to get the latest updates on tuition equality and other policy issues.
  • Email to learn how you can organize for tuition equality in your community


Download our newest publication, "Tuition Equality: A Brighter Future for Tennessee"