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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Students fight for rights of illegal students

Brandeis Immigration Education Initiative pushes for in-state tuition bill

Published: March 18, 2011
Section: Features, Top Stories

Four Brandeis seniors were attending a Student Immigration Movement (SIM) meeting in Boston, when they heard a young man tell a story that made them question Massachusetts’ sense of social justice. The young man had been in the process of transferring from UMass Dartmouth to UMass Boston, when he was forced to drop out. He had a 4.0 grade-point-average at UMass Dartmouth, so his grades certainly weren’t the issue. The university discovered that he wasn’t a documented American citizen. He had been brought to the United States when he was only eight years old, and his parents’ visas were denied twice. In line with Massachusetts’s current stance on undocumented students, the university declared that he had to pay out-of-state tuition. He was no longer able to stay in college, and thus this straight “A” student was forced to drop out. He had attended elementary school, middle school and high school in Massachusetts, but without the proper paper work, he did not qualify for in-state tuition and thus he could no longer afford an education.

This young man’s story is not unique in the United States. Even if a student has spent the majority of his life in a particular state, if he does not have the proper documentation he must pay out-of-state tuition. Some colleges, such as Suffolk University, will deny admission outright to anyone who is an undocumented student.

Desiring to find out more about Brandeis’ policy regarding undocumented students, the four Brandeis seniors at the SIM meeting decided to form the Brandeis Immigration Education Initiative (BIEI), which is currently in the process of being chartered.

Their core mission would be to raise awareness about immigration reform among Brandeis students and to look into Brandeis’ policies about undocumented immigrant students.

“The mystery on this issue is something we need to explore and clarify. The unwillingness of universities to state their policies on undocumented students highlights how pertinent this issue is,” BIEI member Laura Aguirre ’12 said.

One of the founders of the BIEI, Kayla Cronin ’11, also readily supports student immigration reform. Like the other founders, she holds that undocumented students should be treated like any other student.

“Undocumented students really are American. They’ve grown up here. They’re like the kid that you sit next to in math class,” Cronin ’11 said.

BIEI is therefore a big advocate for Massachusetts’ in-state tuition bill, which has recently been filed. This bill, similar to the recently failed DREAM Act, would allow a student who graduated from a public high school in this state and who lived here for at least three years to qualify for in-state tuition rates at public Massachusetts universities. Contrary to popular belief, this bill would apply to both undocumented students and American citizens.

As the Massachusetts in-state tuition bill has just been filed, the BIEI stresses that now is the time to act. Molly Schneider ’11, who helped found BIEI, first learned about the Massachusetts in-state tuition bill at a past event held by Brandeis’ Protestant chaplain, Alex Kern.

“After attending this event and learning more about the struggles that face undocumented individuals in this country, I knew I wanted to become involved,” Schneider said.

The BIEI believes that by raising awareness about this bill among college students, the bill will gain the proper support to be passed.

“Because Boston is such a big student town, students actually have a lot of influence when it comes to voting. Students still live in Massachusetts for four years even if they are not permanent Massachusetts residents, and policy makers want to feel like they are representing their constituents,” Cronin said.

While the in-state tuition bill is BIEI’s main focus right now, the club has other projects and events planned for the future. For example, BIEI is co-sponsoring Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree, who will be speaking at Brandeis on March 22 about race, class and crime in the United States. They also have an open-mic Spoken Words event planned for April 1, titled “Where Do You Come From?” Performances will revolve around immigration, race, community and identity.

At this point, BIEI simply hopes to engage Brandeis students in the everyday struggles of undocumented students. Through raising awareness, they hope that students such as the young man who was forced to drop out of UMass will soon be able to receive an affordable education. They hope that universities will no longer deny admission to students based on their lack of documentation, and that unequal access to education will become a thing of the past.

“Undocumented students carry more weight on them with all the policies that cast them in the shadows; they are denied many privileges a lot of other students take for granted. The Brandeis community needs to be aware of these issues,” Aguirre said.