DREAMs of a Radical Professor

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

Should professors not only counsel, but aid undocumented students in the classroom? Professor Carolina Bank Muñoz certainly gives that impression, recounting how on her first day of teaching the “sociology of immigration” at Brooklyn College five students “requested appointments to speak with me in private.”

“All five students were undocumented and had family members who were undocumented,” she wrote for the latest issue of Radical Teacher. “They were hoping I could help…I had to explain that I was not a lawyer, nor was the class about how to immigrate ‘legally’ but about the social process of immigration.”

Muñoz argues in her article that “Undocumented students are systematically denied access to a college education by a flawed immigration system that has roots in institutionalized racism” and that people are “forced to immigrate” by policies such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and “U.S. economic and trade policies” (emphasis in original).

As an imperfect remedy to this “systematic” discrimination, Muñoz promotes the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act. “The condition [within the bill] of ‘good moral character,’ for example, is troubling. How is moral character defined?” she asked. “How would gay students, activist students, students who have been arrested for acts of civil disobedience, and students in left organizations fare under this condition?” She also objects to the military service option which, she argues, “gives military recruiters who already prey on communities of color further ammunition to convince these students to participate in military service instead of going to college.”

Brooklyn College is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, and far from denying access to illegal immigrants, provides them with financial aid while knowledgeable of their legal status. “At Brooklyn College, for example, numerous students have reported to me that they were told by admissions officers that they do not qualify for in-state tuition, because they do not have social security numbers,” wrote Muñoz . “This, of course, is not accurate, but it has the effect of turning away eligible undocumented students who often do not know their rights under the law.”

8 USC Section 1623, passed in 1998, forbids states from providing in-state tuition to illegal aliens without offering the same privilege to U.S. citizens “without regard to whether the citizen or national is such a resident.” In other words, providing an undocumented student with in-state tuition while charging a non-New York resident out-of-state tuition, a much higher price, is illegal and not within “their rights under the law.”

The CUNY Citizenship & Immigration Project (CUNYCIP) website indicates that CUNY “has limited scholarships available for undocumented students. If you graduated from a New York City high school, public or private, with a B average or better, you may qualify for a New York City Council-Vallone Academic Scholarship.” Ironically, the Vallone Scholarship requires that students “File a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year as a condition for payment of the award,” a procedure which requires that students submit their social security number to the federal government.

CUNYCIP has estimated there are “more than two thousand undocumented students” in the school’s system, according to Professor Muñoz , whose faculty bio states that she worked with the Soros-funded (pdf) Make the Road by Walking in 2007, the same year the non-profit merged with the Latin American Integration Center; it is now known as Make the Road New York (MTRNY). The merged group received between $15,000 and $30,000 from the National Council of La Raza in 2007, according to MTRNY’s annual report.

According to a survey released by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), only 20 percent of the 571 higher education institutions answering the question “Do you verify the status of applicants claiming U.S. citizenship/legal residence?” said that they verify the citizenship of all applicants. Of 203 institutions detailing their response to such students not being able to verify their residency, the most likely consequence of a school suspecting or confirming that an applicant was in the United States illegally was to charge the student higher tuition (38%), followed by the school not permitting them to enroll (23%), enrolling them without conditions (16%), “other” (11%), permitting enrollment under “certain conditions” (10%), and asking enrolled students to withdraw from the student body (2%).

“The full tuition grants of the CUNY Honors College are also available to undocumented students,” states the CUNYCIP site. “The Honors College is available to only the most outstanding students. In addition to the full tuition grant, Honors College students receive a stipend and many other benefits.”

According to the NY State Education Department (NYSED), “Nearly 60 percent of the funding of CUNY’s senior colleges is provided by State appropriations; the balance is from tuition and fees and Federal and local funds.”

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.