RALEIGH, N.C. -- Maria Cortez-Perez has lived in High Point since she was two years old. But when she graduated from Southwest Guilford High School last year, she was told she did not qualify for in-state tuition rates.
"Everything that I worked for," she said. "It just vanished."
Cortez-Perez is an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. Since arriving in the U.S., she worked hard in school and was accepted to in-state colleges. She said she would have attended, but the out-of-state tuition rates she would have been forced to pay were too high.
"These students, like me, who graduate with really high GPAs, want to pursue a college degree," she said.
She and many of those others marched through downtown Raleigh Wednesday, in cap and gown, to bring attention to the issue of undocumented immigrants being forced to pay out-of-state rates.
Luis Ruiz, who graduated a couple weeks ago from High Point Central, said he, too, was accepted to state colleges but will not be able to attend.
"I got into Pembroke and Wingate," he said. "Because of financial reasons I wasn't able to go. And I worked really hard to get there. And just to be left out -- it's really hard to take."
Out-of-state tuition can sometimes be more than twice as expensive as in-state tuition. At UNC-Chapel Hill, for example, in-state tuition is around $24,000 and out-of-state tuition is nearly $51,000.
Senate Bill 463 is currently making its way through the North Carolina legislature. It states that undocumented immigrants can qualify for in-state tuition as long as they have attended a North Carolina high school for at least three consecutive years immediately before receiving their diplomas.
Undocumented students said they're hopeful North Carolina could become the 22nd state to pass such a law.
"Most of us have been here since kindergarten, all the way through high school," Ruiz said. "So we pretty much are American."