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Opening our minds and doors

Observer Editorial | Thursday, September 5, 2013

“Notre Dame will admit undocumented students”
As Notre Dame’s leaders continue to push the United States government on immigration reform, the University announced it would join the majority of American Catholic colleges and universities in admitting undocumented students in an 89-word press release Aug. 22.
“The University of Notre Dame has adopted changes in its admission policies that will make possible the admission of undocumented students who successfully compete for a place in its first-year and transfer classes,” the release stated.
“In making the decision to admit academically qualified men and women who are undocumented,” said Don Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment in the release, “we will strengthen our incoming class and give deserving young people the chance for a Notre Dame education.”

The attention the nation has given to the University’s new policy to admit undocumented students speaks to the symbolic weight of the decision. When Notre Dame does something, people notice.
In this case, Notre Dame’s action publicly affirms the worth and dignity of undocumented students by giving qualified and deserving applicants chances to attain the education all of us at this University are so blessed to receive. We applaud the administration for taking this step on behalf of our undocumented brothers and sisters.
The policy aligns with the University’s mission “to cultivate in its students … a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many.” It will increase ethnic and racial diversity at Notre Dame by bringing in students who were born in other nations. Widening the potential applicant pool will allow the University community to continue to grow intellectually and spiritually, cultivating the voices of often-marginalized undocumented students while welcoming individuals with different life experiences into the Notre Dame Family.
If the recent developments at Notre Dame to resolve feelings of exclusion voiced by certain groups are any indication of the community’s likely response to the addition of undocumented students, current students and faculty members will welcome them with open arms and open minds.
Notre Dame’s decision is fair to all students. The majority of undocumented students were brought to the United States as children, following their families’ decisions and now living with the challenges as adults.  These undocumented students still will have to earn admission to the University by the same academic, extracurricular and moral standards that the Office of Admissions use to assess every other candidate.
Now, qualified candidates will receive a chance to prove themselves, irrespective of their immigration status. This policy is ethical, fair and compassionate.
But, it’s too soon to celebrate. The adoption of a new policy does not mean the job is done.  
The press release did not expand on the financial and social support systems that need to be created to ensure undocumented students can participate fully in the college experience and succeed post-graduation.
At the forefront of any prospective college student’s mind is concern over his or her finances.
“Notre Dame is committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need for all admitted students,” the press release stated.
In reality, a Notre Dame education will remain out of reach for many undocumented students, some of whom likely come from low-income backgrounds. Undocumented persons are not eligible for federal financial aid in any form, including loans, grants, scholarships or work-study funds. Additionally, Indiana’s House Bill 1402 stipulates that students without documentation cannot receive state aid. Undocumented students can only receive privately-funded financial aid, such as that which comes from Notre Dame’s private endowment.
There are a few private scholarships available for undocumented students, but while these forms of aid are helpful, they likely will not offset the cost of a Notre Dame education enough for most undocumented students. Most University students still graduate with a significant amount of debt, though they can apply for and receive governmental aid. Undocumented students cannot utilize governmental aid to offset this burden, and thus, a Notre Dame education will remain out of reach for many.
Will Notre Dame provide these students with more financial aid in recognition of their inability to qualify for government funding? Would providing additional aid to undocumented students be the ethical choice, or would that be unfair to other students? The University has not yet publicly answered these questions.
The cost of a Notre Dame education is not the only hurdle undocumented students interested in attending the University must face.
These students need healthcare. Will they be eligible for the student health insurance that University Health Services offers? Will they pay the same rates?

These students need post-graduation prospects. Will the University give undocumented students information about pathways to citizenship? Will the University help them navigate the post-graduation job search?

These students need an entry point into the Notre Dame community. Will Notre Dame facilitate their immersion into this community? Will the University provide them with the support necessary to handle the very unique challenges they will face?

Opening the University’s doors to undocumented students is symbolic. How Notre Dame plans to support these students is unclear, and until the University elaborates on the ways in which it will support its undocumented students, this action will remain only symbolic.
We look forward to hearing about how the administration, Student Affairs and government-facing factions of Notre Dame will collaborate to enrich and assist these students as they pursue education at our University and make plans for life after graduation.
Undocumented students can help the University community better understand what more needs to be done to ensure that all people have a right to education in this country. Even more importantly, by working, playing and praying with us, undocumented students will help Notre Dame continue to grow into a more understanding and welcoming place.
We look forward to learning from our undocumented peers who attain admission to and choose to attend Notre Dame. We hope the University will give them the chance to consider sharing their stories and experiences with the Notre Dame community.