*Why you should read this: Because at its surface this is an immigration and financial aid story, but in reality it’s about the definition of U.S. citizenship. Because MALDEF is leading the fight over the definition. VL
By Janell Ross, Washington Post (8.5 minute read)
Natalia Villalobos is a U.S. citizen, born and raised in the District. When she graduated from Emerson Preparatory School in 2015, she planned to enroll in college, study business and child development, and use those skills to open a day care where young children can thrive.
But when she applied for a city tuition assistance grant that would have helped her pay for classes at Montgomery College, the 19-year-old was turned away because her mother is not a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident. She says she cannot afford tuition at the community college without the financial help, and she is now arguing that the program’s rules have violated her civil rights.
Villalobos, with the help of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), filed a federal lawsuit in the District last week, alleging that the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG) program unfairly discriminates against U.S. citizens with immigrant parents, including those living in the United States legally. The lawsuit claims DCTAG’s rules are preventing her from accessing thousands of dollars in public aid — aid available to most of her classmates — that would make it possible for her to go to college, arbitrarily getting in the way of her obtaining a college degree.
But Villalobos and her lawyers also say that something larger is at risk: the meaning of U.S. citizenship and equality under the law.
“The issues are clear and alarming,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at MALDEF. “You have a U.S. citizen student who just wants the same chance that everyone else has. Legally, when we start chipping away at what it means to be a United States citizen, we undermine the core principles of our nation.”