April 27, 2010

Students petition U of C for support on immigration reform

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University of Chicago Coalition for Immigration Reform (UCCIR) is meeting with administrators and circulating a petition among students in a push to gain University support for its cause.

UCCIR advocates that undocumented students who attend high school in the United States be made eligible to receive need-blind aid from the University of Chicago. The group is meeting with Associate Dean Michael Jones Wednesday to discuss how to make its plans feasible, and hopes to meet with Dean John Boyer in the coming weeks to present its petition.

The petition lists two demands: that the University offer two merit-based scholarships to undocumented students, and that the University publicly support, through lobbying with other universities and writing a letter to Congress, a process by which undocumented students who attended U.S. high schools can become legal citizens.

“The University can’t solve immigration, but it has a lot of clout, politically and as an institution of higher learning,” said second-year Jonathan Rodrigues, a member of UCCIR and Maroon staffer.

Currently, the University includes undocumented students­—who are ineligible for federal financial aid—in the need-aware pool of international students. According to UCCIR, few undocumented students have the means to attend the U of C without financial aid. Undocumented students, they also argue, come from a unique background different than that of international students, and should be considered independently.

The coalition, headed by Rodrigues, third-years Ashley Lane and Cindy Agustin, and first-year Richard Pichardo, has earned the support of a number of campus RSOs, including Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Atzlan (MEChA), the Chicago Justice Initative, and Amnesty International.

Lane said that while the group doesn’t know the citizenship status of its members or other students at the University, an administrator told her there is at least one student currently attending the University who is undocumented. Lane also said she knew of one undocumented student who graduated from the College and currently works in a junkyard because he can’t get a job that requires a Social Security number.

The organization, which is currently in the process of recruiting members and hopes to include other RSOs in its coalition soon, has about 275 people in its Facebook group, and about 25 people attended its first meeting.

“It’s a unification of campus for a cause,” Pichardo said.

The petition argues that immigration reform and the support of undocumented students is beneficial to the University community as a whole. “At the University of Chicago, we deserve to be challenged by the brightest of our peers, while undocumented students deserve the opportunity to define themselves by their accomplishments, not their status, ” the petition reads.

The coalition grew out of Chicago Students for Immigration Reform (CSIR), an RSO whose members went to Washington over spring break to march at a protest demanding immigration reform. The coalition hopes to expand the base of campus activists by reaching out to other RSOs for support.

When asked about the new immigration law in Arizona, the toughest on record in the United States, the members looked on the bright side. “The bill of Arizona is going to excite the base even more,” Lane said. “It’s not about immigration any more, its about civil rights.”

Other goals of UCCIR’s include advocating for the documentation of undocumented high school students and comprehensive immigration reform in Congress. The group does not officially support the DREAM Act, which has been a rallying point for immigration reform activists at other schools. According to Lane, a clause in the DREAM Act that requires verification of the citizenship of undocumented students’ family members could break up families.

Presidents at other universities have publicly supported DREAM Act, including at Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford, according to an April 1 article in the Harvard Crimson.

“What influenced my decision was a meeting I had with students whose lives were so deeply affected by their inability to be full citizens and participants in American society,” Harvard president Drew G. Faust told the Crimson.

But UCCIR believes it will be more difficult to sway the U of C administration than others. “We’re not expecting it to be as easy as it was for the Harvard kids whose President already had pro-immigration reform leanings that were fairly public before the statement,” Lane said.

This is due in part to the Kalven Report, Lane said, which encourages political neutrality within the administration. “Making a statement is something that they are reluctant to do, because of the Kalven Report,” she said.

Lane said the group hopes to use public support from peer institutions and a show of popular support within the University to convince the administration to work with other universities to lobby for immigration reform. “This isn’t a partisan issue,” she said.