Our Opinion: University Policy Harms Undocumented Students

editorial board

Last Wednesday, a panel hosted by student initiative Freedom at Emory, an organization founded in response to Emory’s current policy regarding undocumented students, brought together both documented and undocumented students in a discussion of current policies limiting the latter’s right to a higher education.

Freedom at Emory, which formed this year, is an offshoot of the Atlanta-based organization Freedom University which advocates for the right of undocumented students to a higher education.

We applaud the courage of those students who shared personal accounts of growing up without the legal status of being U.S. citizens. This dialogue broadens the perspectives of those who attend Emory as documented citizens to the struggle that some face. According to the National Immigration Law Center, only about five to 10 percent of undocumented high school graduates continue to college, as compared to about 75 percent of their documented classmates.

Many of the 1.4 million college-age immigrants living in this country did not actively choose to come here. These students cannot be blamed for refusing to take the appropriate measures toward becoming naturalized citizens either, since many have gone through the process and still been unable to attain citizenship, a symbol of the inadequacies of the U.S. immigration system.

Immigration policies in the United States send a clear message to potential immigrants worldwide: although this nation was founded by immigrants and its economic grandeur fueled by immigrants, the U.S. government no longer wants any immigrants. Were it left entirely up to some, we would likely shut our borders altogether and practice migratory isolationism.

Emory admits undocumented students to its colleges; however, undocumented students are not eligible for in-state or federally-reduced tuition. Instead, the University’s financial aid system considers all undocumented students as international students, increasing the price of Emory tuition by an extreme amount.

This has important implications for undocumented students in Georgia. According to the Georgia Board of Regents’ policy 4.1.6, undocumented students are barred from applying to the top five public universities in Georgia, even if they meet Georgia’s residency requirements.

The implication alone behind this stipulation is abhorrent. The Board of Regents not only refuses to acknowledge the rights of undocumented students, some who are American in every sense other than their legal status, but the Board also refuses these students the right to attend the so-called best universities in Georgia. If undocumented students in Georgia cannot attend its best universities, Emory, a private university, should create opportunities for undocumented students to achieve the best education.

Freedom at Emory references Emory’s Equal Opportunity Policy which, similarly to the Board of Regents’ anti-discrimination policy, provides equal opportunity in terms of admission, educational programs and employment “to all individuals regardless of race, color, religion, ethnic or national origin, gender, genetic information, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and veteran’s status.” Emory does not factor a student’s documentation status in its equal opportunity measure, but in order to truly be a University that values diversity and to ethically lessen burdens faced by undocumented students, the University should include documentation status in its affirmative action measures.

In its University Vision Statement, Emory envisions itself as “ethically engaged” and “diverse.” In order to work toward these goals, the University should decrease its barrier imposed against undocumented students, which undermines Emory’s commitment to ethnic, racial and socioeconomic diversity and engaged ethics.

Additionally, as other editorials and letters to the editor have stated, the University should provide both need-based and merit-based scholarships. Emory already allows undocumented students to apply for merit-based scholarships, but these scholarships are often not enough for students who cannot accept them if limited by financial hardships.

We urge the University to actively — and ethically — engage with this issue, acknowledging the need for undocumented students to have access to all kinds of education. If some federal or state regulations impede these recommendations, the University should explicitly state so, creating online resources for undocumented students to understand exactly what kind of financial aid they are able to receive.

What is legal is not always what is ethical. As an institution with high ethical standards, Emory has an obligation to address this crisis of millions of students without access to higher education. What kind of policy is it to bar certain students from achieving the best education that they deserve, a policy that echoes historical discrimination and racism in this country?

While it is unlikely we can expect an overhaul of the state law prohibiting in-state tuition for undocumented residents, as a private institution, Emory can join the movement of schools that are differentiating themselves from long-standing exclusion of undocumented students. Universities like Harvard, Dartmouth, Princeton and Yale have included need-blind admissions and met full demonstrated need for international and U.S. students. Yesterday, New York University announced that it would offer scholarships to undocumented students who have lived in New York for three years.

Let Emory lead by an additional ethical example.

The above staff editorial represents the majority opinion of the Wheel‘s editorial board.

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