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‘Feeling stuck? Us too:’ Eight arrested following protest for tuition equality for undocumented students

By Jennifer Calfas, Daily Staff Reporter
and Sam Gringlas , Daily Staff Reporter
and Adam Rubenfire, Managing News Editor
Published April 17, 2013

Led by a University Police officer, Public Policy senior Kevin Mersol-Barg crossed State Street, hands cuffed behind his back. Before entering the squad car, he uttered a few words as chants advocating in-state tuition equality were echoed across the street.

“We won’t rest until tuition equality is passed,” he said.

Mersol-Barg — who is a columnist at The Michigan Daily — was one of eight protesters arrested after blocking traffic for around 30 minutes outside the Michigan Union at State Street and South University Avenue. About 40 people originally impeded traffic, though many retreated as officers from the University and Ann Arbor Police Departments approached. The arrested include six University students.

In a protest organized by One Michigan — a Detroit-based organization led by undocumented youth and allies — students and community members gathered in front of the Union to call attention to University policy on undocumented students’ tuition rates. A press release for the demonstration said students were “risking arrest” to demand in-state rates for Michigan’s undocumented residents.

At about $12,000 per year, in-state tuition is nearly $28,000 less than out-of-state rates.

One of the protestors, Marisol Ramos, a Public Policy and Education graduate student, said although previous protests were successful in making the issue salient, they were not able to achieve tangible action within the past year.

“It’s our first opportunity for the more confrontational tactic,” Ramo said. “We’re hoping this action creates a sense of urgency in the same way this issue is urgent to undocumented immigrants living in the state and across the country.”

Ramos was later arrested.

Members of the University’s Coalition for Tuition Equality participated in the event to support One Michigan, although the two groups are not affiliated. The event occurred as administrators continue to discuss possible changes to University residency policy.

University Police spokeswoman Diane Brown said the UMPD dispatch center received several calls at about 6:28 p.m. — including one from a University bus driver — after the students went into the street.

"Several chose to comply, and these eight got arrested," Brown said. "They were very cooperative — they were arrested, brought to our office, processed and released."

Brown said charges against the students won't be clear until prosecutors review the case, but could include disorderly conduct, disobeying a police officer or impeding traffic. When asked whether prosecutors could choose to dismiss the case, she said it's “possible, but hard to say,” noting that the students were clearly disobeying the law.

“They're making a statement, they get the consequences,” Brown said.

Brown could not speak to whether the students could face consequences from the Office of Student Conflict Resolution, the Office of the Dean of Students or any other non-law-enforcement disciplinary agency, but said UMPD does not serve as a complainant to those units.

Brown said today's protest will not likely affect security at the April 18 University Board of Regents meeting, as a security plan has already been put in place, despite reports that groups will demonstrate at that meeting.

The most recent large-scale arrest of student protesters occurred in 2007, when 12 students were arrested for refusing to leave the office of University President Mary Sue Coleman. The students wanted Coleman to implement stricter labor standards for companies that produce Univesity-licensed apparel. Similar to today, students were released that night after being processed at DPS headquarters.