Yair Munoz: From Jail to Costa Rica

By Rolando Zenteno, Staff Writer

In the span of a year and a half, Yair went from being arrested by Armstrong police to studying abroad in Costa Rica.

In 2013, he was in a jail cell for about eight hours. Looking around, he smiled at all the unfamiliar faces that kept the room packed and tepid. Time went by slow and the person in charge of bailing him out wasn’t answering.

“I’m going to call Domino’s and have a pizza delivered,” he joked. “I’m hungry.”

Fast forward to last semester, and he was unboarding a plane in San Jose, Costa Rica where he remained for about five months eating homemade Tico food with a family of five.

There, he didn’t think much on what had occurred the year before when he was arrested for interrupting a GA Board of Regents meeting in the Student Union Ballroom.

Yair had done it as an act of civil disobedience against the GA College Ban, a policy that bars undocumented students from the top five universities in the state.

“I was tired and saw this as an opportunity to speak out against something that is wrong,” Munoz said. “I got enough courage. I decided that it was time to speak out and say that it wasn’t ok.”

As an undocumented student, he currently pays $9,000 a semester to attend Armstrong, roughly as much as he paid for tuition, room and board, and his overall trip to Central America.

In 2012, federal policy known as DACA granted Yair legal presence in the United States. It gave him the opportunity to work, study, and travel abroad under certain circumstances.

When he was arrested a year later, the idea of studying in another country under DACA was more realistic than attending a public university in the state of Georgia.

Due to Board of Regents policy, it was cheaper for him to study abroad for a semester in Costa Rica than it is for him to pay out-of-state tuition as an Armstrong pirate while covering for living expenses.

The GA Board of Regents does not recognize DACA as proof of lawful presence in the state, so despite living in Georgia for 12 years and graduating from Brooks High School in 2011, he must abide to the policies that force him to pay out-of-state tuition.

But there are ways for students like him to get to college, or at least one would expect. When he was a senior, for example, he ranked at the top of his class.

A local scholarship committee organized a scholarship to benefit those who had excelled the most throughout their four years in school. The process was open to everyone. It involved an application, essay, and interview.

During honors night, the committee called the winners. They started with the valedictorian and made their way down the class rank. Yair tracked the pattern. Ranking number five, he assumed he would be selected.

But then something happened.

“Numbers one, two, three, and four were called. Then they skipped me, and called up number six.”

“I was heartbroken,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough at the moment. I didn’t go to school for two days. I even missed my AP exam.”

Yair didn’t give up, however. In the fall of 2011, he procured enough funding through private scholarships to enroll at Armstrong. Even then, he knew it wasn’t sufficient of him to settle down.

At Armstrong, he became involved. In Savannah, he started organizing. In Georgia, he began to learn from those who had experienced what he was yet to go through.

At 21, he is a member of the Savannah Undocumented Youth Alliance and helps set up workshops around the city explaining the situation that undocumented students go through in the state.

Yair has served as an Armstrong Senator and President of HOLA. His leadership skills have landed him a spot in GALEO’s Intitute of Leadership in Atlanta.

He currently lobbies at the Capitol in favor of in-state tuition for undocumented students with DACA, studies Biology to one day become a doctor, and works construction to pay for tuition at Armstrong.