Student Born in Texas, Legally Residing in South Carolina, Denied Lower Tuition and Aid to attend South Carolina Universities Based on Parents' Status

COLUMBIA, SC - Today, MALDEF filed Rocha Herrera v. Finan in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina Spartanburg Division, against the board members of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, asserting that they violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Commission promulgated a rule in 2009, creating a new "non-resident alien" category and denying a U.S. citizen resident of the State the rights of other South Carolina residents based on her parents' immigration status. The plaintiff, Angelica Rocha Herrera, a Texas-born U.S. citizen and South Carolina resident, was denied financial aid and in-state tuition because of the Commission's new rule.

"A hallmark of our democracy from its very beginnings has been that each person has the right to achieve based on her own character, not based on who her parents are or were," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "South Carolina has violated that basic principle in denying the state support accorded every other citizen to a hardworking and dedicated young woman seeking to contribute to her state and nation by completing higher education."

Due to the Commission's categorization of her as an ineligible "non-resident," Rocha Herrera was disqualified from receiving the State's LIFE scholarship and forced to forego her place in the selective South Carolina Teaching Fellows Program at the University of South Carolina Upstate. She instead opted to attend Converse College. Upon learning of her parents' undocumented federal immigration status, Converse College also retracted all state-based financial assistance.

Rocha Herrera, an American citizen, moved with her family to South Carolina in the late 1990's. She received a South Carolina high school diploma, is a registered South Carolina voter, has a South Carolina bank account, and other proof of her long established residence in South Carolina.

"Despite the hurdles, Ms. Rocha Herrera is pursuing a higher education, studying mathematics, and planning to teach South Carolina high school students after graduating," said Amy Pedersen, MALDEF Staff Attorney. "She represents the promise of American youth to keep the United States and South Carolina competitive in a global and national economy. How is it in the State's interest to erect unconstitutional barriers to this young Latina's advancement of her own and her community's success?"

Local counsel for MALDEF is the law firm of Moore & Van Allen PLLC. In this case, MALDEF seeks to uphold the Fourteenth Amendment and overturn South Carolina's Commission on Higher Education policy depriving the plaintiff's undeniable right to be considered a citizen of South Carolina, with all of the responsibilities and privileges of that status.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund