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University revises admissions policy

Tori Roeck | Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Notre Dame not only welcomed new students, faculty and staff to campus last week, but it also extended a welcome to undocumented applicants, whose admission to the University seemed nearly impossible in past years.

Director of Admissions Bob Mundy said undocumented applicants used to be considered international students who had to obtain a student visa before enrolling at Notre Dame. 

“This process typically required that they leave the United States and apply for that visa at an American embassy in another country, which made it very challenging,” Mundy said. 

The Office of Undergraduate Admissions now considers undocumented applicants as domestic students, Mundy said.

“We will now consider undocumented students for admission without the subsequent expectation that they receive a student visa to study at Notre Dame,” he said. “We will also meet their demonstrated financial need, as we would for any admitted student.”

Mundy said the University will follow Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security to address undocumented applicants.

According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website, DACA was initiated in 2012 and allows young people who entered the United States illegally under a certain age and fulfill certain criteria to receive a deportation stay for a period of two years, subject to renewal.

Mundy said University President Fr. John Jenkins launched a committee to look into Notre Dame’s admission practices for undocumented students in April.

“This committee was guided by [Vice President for Mission Engagement and Church Affairs] Fr. Bill Lies and considered the practices of peer institutions, as well as the position of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,” Mundy said. 

Student body president Alex Coccia and vice president Nancy Joyce released an online statement in support of the decision Aug. 23. 

“With this decision, we join many of our fellow Catholic schools across the country who provide pathways to education for undocumented students,” the statement read. “Our Catholic Tradition illustrates this as a moral obligation to our brothers and sisters, and our Catholic migrant history demonstrates our commitment to educating students ‘where learning becomes service to justice.'”

Coccia’s chief of staff Juan Rangel said Notre Dame had lagged behind other Catholic universities, including Saint Mary’s College and Holy Cross College, in deciding to admit undocumented students. 

“We were one of the few remaining Catholic universities that hadn’t done this yet, so we were falling back,” Rangel said. “This will allow us to catch up, especially with Catholic social teaching and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops being so active on this.”

Rangel, who is also president of the Student Coalition for Immigration Advocacy, said the University’s Catholic identity is crucial to its obligation to support undocumented students.

“We believe so strongly in caring for the least of our brothers and sisters, and at a time like this, when [undocumented students are] facing so many obstacles and risks and prejudices, this would be the opportune time to step forward in that move,” he said. 

Senior Mark Gianfalla, president of the College Republicans, said he disagrees with the decision because it is not legally ethical.

“Basically, … someone enters the country illegally and Notre Dame addresses their right to education and puts them above international students that have not broken a law to get here,” Gianfalla said. “I know that Notre Dame emphasizes ethics across the board, and this is sending the wrong message to ignore the fact that these young people who entered the country illegally broke the law and were residing here for a long part illegally until 2012 when DACA was passed and now have a short stay period.”

Gianfalla said the University is going beyond the position of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

“As a Catholic University, I think we should be more in touch with the fact that these are people that want a better life but at the same time went about it the wrong way,” he said. “Although the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports eventual legalization of resident aliens, I believe that that’s not the same thing that Notre Dame is doing.”

Rangel said undocumented students are often unaware of their legal status until they begin college applications and have wholeheartedly assimilated into American life.

“Most of them come into the country before they are 18 years old without documentation but have felt American in every other sense of the word,” he said. “They grew up in this country, usually, most of their life. They don’t know any other way of living other than the American way of life.”

Gianfalla said entering the United States at a young age does not excuse young people’s decisions to remain here.

“Even if … you didn’t know you were breaking the law, staying here is still breaking the law, until you were granted the stay in 2012,” he said. “That’s what the DACA thing is; I can understand that. There comes a point where you need to make decisions for yourself, and at school we don’t have our parents making decisions for us.”

Gianfalla said he believes student government’s support of the decision does not reflect the student body’s opinions.

“I think student government has a fairly liberal agenda, and I think Notre Dame has to balance itself out and realize that it’s a Catholic university with traditional values and not necessarily to listen to a small, outspoken minority on campus,” he said. “The majority of the student body is politically conservative, and the student government in my opinion does not recognize that.” 

Rangel said he understands why people may be opposed to the University’s decision, but he still thinks it’s a good one. 

“This is a great development for Notre Dame,” he said.