A Winston-Salem, N.C., man wore a graduation gown and a mask Wednesday.
Speaking in front of about 50 people during a meeting sponsored by the Latino Club at Winston-Salem State University, he said his parents brought him to the United States when he was 8. He attended elementary, middle and high school in Forsyth County, but college is out of reach because he must pay out-of-state tuition as an immigrant who is not authorized to be in the U.S.
And then, shocking many in the crowd, he pulled off the mask.
"I am Angel Fuentes and I am undocumented," he said, bringing his story to a close.
Fuentes' speech was part of a continuing effort by El Cambio, an immigrant-advocacy group with chapters in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Surry County and Yadkin County, to push for in-state tuition for immigrants such as Fuentes.
Critics of that idea say that illegal immigrants, even if brought into the U.S. as children, should obey immigration law, go back to their country of birth and apply for entry into the U.S., just as thousands of other law-abiding immigrants have done.
Wooten Gough, a Winston-Salem resident who founded El Cambio, said he is trying to push against that mentality by staging meetings like the one at WSSU. Ultimately, he said, he wants to effect change by getting people to vote for candidates who are more supportive of immigrants such as Fuentes.
Fuentes, 23, said he had aspirations of being a surgeon. Before his speech, he covered his face because his story is like that of thousands of other young immigrants who are not authorized to be in the U.S., he told the crowd.
"I was not going to be able to graduate and go forward with my life, which is all I really wanted to do," he said.
Many people attending the meeting were already eligible to pay in-state tuition because they are citizens, but they have gone out of their way to ally themselves with El Cambio's effort.
For example, Leslie Dominguez, a U.S. citizen, said before the meeting that she knows many people like Fuentes and understands his situation.
She wants to be a teacher and plans to attend a four-year college after she finishes her studies at Forsyth Technical Community College. Several of her friends have the same dream, but they have the added hurdle of higher tuition costs.
"After I met all these wonderful people who are undocumented, I didn't think it's fair that just because they don't have papers they can't go to college (without paying higher tuition)," Dominguez said. "It's not their fault that they have been here since they were little children. It means that all that hard work they did in high school won't pay off."
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