Most days, Ulises Serrano spends an hour or so standing in his bedroom with a music stand on his bed and a viola tucked under his chin.
Above his bed, a row of album covers lines the wall — The Beatles' “Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Michael Jackson's “Thriller” among them. But Beatlemania isn't on the agenda today. The music filling the room is a viola suite by 20th-century Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch.
Serrano, 21, is studying music business at Oklahoma City University, where he'll be a senior in the fall. Eventually, he'd like to start a concert venue of his own — something like the University of Central Oklahoma's Jazz Lab or the Diamond Ballroom, he said.
“I've always loved music,” he said.
After a recent federal policy change, that goal may be within easier reach. An undocumented immigrant, Serrano received temporary work authorization earlier this year under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Last June, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would not deport certain undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as young children. Under the policy, those who qualify may be granted a temporary work permit.
Under that program, Serrano is eligible to get a job, a bank account and a driver's license. But the authorization is more of a stopgap measure than a permanent solution — it doesn't grant Serrano full legal status, and it doesn't provide a path to citizenship.
Serrano, of Edmond, was born in the city of Chihuahua, the capital of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. When he was 10 years old, his parents brought him to the United States, where they hoped he and his younger brother and sister would find greater opportunities.
He's been able to take advantage of many of the opportunities his parents were seeking, Serrano said. His education at OCU is almost totally covered by music scholarships. Without those scholarships, it's unlikely he would be able to afford to go to OCU, where tuition, fees and other expenses can cost upward of $40,000 per year.
“There is no way,” he said. “It's ridiculously expensive.”
But not all undocumented students are as lucky. Undocumented college students — even those with deferred action status — aren't eligible for federal financial aid programs such as Pell Grants or federal student loans.
Undocumented students who meet in-state tuition requirements are eligible to pay resident tuition rates at Oklahoma's public colleges and universities. A law passed in 2003 guaranteed resident tuition for undocumented students, but that law was later amended, giving the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education the authority to decide what rate undocumented students should pay.
In that regard, Oklahoma's public higher education system is friendlier to undocumented students than those of some states. Arizona, Georgia and Indiana bar undocumented students from being able to pay in-state tuition. Alabama and South Carolina have laws banning undocumented students from enrolling in those states' higher education systems at all.