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Immigrant admission policy examined

Becky Hogan | Tuesday, April 1, 2008

After last fall’s campus-wide forum on immigration, senior Michael Kozak was left with questions about the University’s role in the debate.

Kozak, who had completed a four-credit field study course on Mexican immigration last semester, was inspired to research the University admissions process for undocumented students. He wanted to find out if Notre Dame allowed undocumented citizens – a genteel euphemism for illegal immigrants – to apply and enroll.

“Once we began researching we started finding that it is entirely possible for undocumented students to be admitted [to the University],” Kozak said.

Assistant Provost for Enrollment Dan Saracino said while the University does not prohibit undocumented students from applying to Notre Dame, it does require that they apply as international students.

“We have no policy against admitting an undocumented student if the student is academically qualified,” Saracino said.

However, few apply, and few are admitted. Saracino said he wasn’t certain the University had any undocumented students enroll in the past 10 years.

The applicant pool is so small in part because a limited amount of financial aid is available for international students.

According to the Office Of Undergraduate Admissions Web site, the University “meets 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated need,” though it also requires international student applicants to submit a Certificate of Finances proving they can pick up the costs for their education.

Because undocumented students are treated like international students, they must “be able to show the University that they have the funds to pay for a four year experience at Notre Dame,” Saracino said.

“A U.S. citizen and or a permanent resident is eligible for federal grant money and federal loans, and then we are capable of meeting the difference of what the federal programs provide,” Saracino said. “We cannot afford to offer admission to undocumented students who can’t afford to pick up the tab for the full four years.”

Kozak is not satisfied with the University’s claim that undocumented students are a financial burden.

“We’re not talking about droves of undocumented students,” Kozak said. “We’re not dealing with huge numbers. Personally, I don’t think that it’s the burden [the University] is making it out be.”

He thinks the University’s policy of meeting 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need unfairly prevents undocumented students from enrolling due to lack of financial aid.

Saracino said it’s critical for students to have permanent residency, since that status makes them eligible for federal aid.

“But if an undocumented student applies to us and won’t be a permanent resident, we can’t offer them admission unless they have someone who can sponsor them [to help offset tuition costs],” he said.

Saracino mentioned a female applicant from California who is in the process of attaining permanent residency prior to joining the Class of 2012.

“We just sent a letter to California Senator [Dianne] Feinstein on behalf of the student asking her do her best to expedite this process. … We want that student to be able to start here in the fall,” he said.

Saracino said there has been no discussion about changing the University’s current policy toward undocumented immigrant applicants.

Kozak, however, said the policy should be changed to simplify the process of applying as an undocumented student or to receive a student visa.

“Undocumented immigrants have to physically go back their country [of origin] to get a visa … getting an international student visa is extremely difficult in and of itself,” Kozak said.

Kozak said reevaluating the current policy is part of the University’s duty as part of its Catholic mission.

“In the same way that the University does not deny admission to poor people because of the additional burden they will place on financial aid, it ought not deny admission to undocumented immigrants based on financial ease alone,” Kozak said. “This is a moral decision and one that ought to reflect our Catholic sense of morality.”

Kozak said it is imperative for the University to reevaluate the policy because there are public and private non-Catholic colleges and universities that admit undocumented students and offer them aid to finance their education.

He said Harvard University and Princeton University are two of the non-Catholic, highly visible institutions that accept undocumented students and provide them with financial aid. Harvard had 10 undocumented students and Princeton had at least one in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available.

Kozak said there are local institutions that accept undocumented students, like Saint Mary’s.

Dan Meyer, vice president of enrollment management at Saint Mary’s, said the College evaluates undocumented immigrants just as they would any other applicant.

“We accept undocumented students because when we go through the admissions process we may or may not know if a student is undocumented,” Meyer said. “The decision is just based on academic qualification. We do not want to penalize a student if she is undocumented.”

When an undocumented student applies for financial aid at Saint Mary’s, she is not guaranteed to receive full financial aid from the College since Saint Mary’s does not guarantee meeting 100 percent of students’ demonstrated need, Meyer said.

“She has to rely on her family and her extended family to finance her education,” he said.

Unlike the University’s policy, however, undocumented students are considered for scholarships from the College in the same way any other student would be considered.

“We also make a decision on the level of academic scholarship she qualifies for,” Meyer said. “We apply the same standards across the entire applicant pool.”

Saint Mary’s did change the way undocumented students apply for aid this year. They are now required to complete a paper version of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The College uses this application to assess a student’s eligibility for aid.

“This year the change in policy was carefully analyzed and reviewed. We feel it’s consistent with our mission as a Catholic institution,” Meyer said.

Although Meyer could not give an exact number, he said that there were less than a dozen undocumented students admitted last year.