Inclusion means undocumented students too: an open letter to the Tufts community

Courtesy Joanna Dimas

Dear Tufts,

We are writing to you as Tufts United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ), a student group dedicated to supporting immigrant rights on campus, in Massachusetts and nationally. As Tufts students, one of our most important and immediate goals is to push for equal opportunity on our campus for undocumented students.

As we write to you, we think about the high school senior we met this year, who cannot accept the prestigious scholarship she was recently awarded for high scores on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) because she is not a citizen. Tufts is her dream school, but because Tufts does not provide clear information or resources about its admissions policies for undocumented students, she is unsure if she can even apply.

We think about an undocumented friend of ours who graduated with high honors from Boston Latin in 2012. After being accepted to Tufts as an international student, he had to decline his acceptance because he was not granted any financial aid. Two years later, he is still not enrolled in college due to exorbitant tuition rates and no financial support. He has had to put his education on hold as he fights for immigrant justice. Had he been granted the need-based financial aid award he deserves, he would be graduating from Tufts with the class of 2016.

We think about current and past undocumented Tufts students, who study here with little support or resources from the Tufts community. A current Tufts student who enrolled as undocumented shared with us, “I think the hardest thing about being at Tufts is feeling like no one understands what you have gone through, the sacrifices that you and your family had to make for your education […] I am realizing that most people do not understand or care about the privilege of being able to receive financial aid and how it has affected my emotional health more than I ever thought it would.”

This past Sunday, the TCU Senate passed a resolution calling for more inclusive admissions and financial aid policies for undocumented students. The Senators adopted this resolution unanimously and without debate, a nearly unprecedented move. The resolution challenges current Tufts admissions and financial aid policies, which define undocumented students as international students. Not only is this an inaccurate representation of the experiences of many undocumented students, but it eliminates the possibility of Tufts acting to meet these students’ demonstrated need through financial aid awards. This effectively prohibits many, or most, undocumented students from attending our university.

Our “Resolution to Establish Equal Opportunity for Undocumented Students” urges the administration to consider undocumented students as domestic rather than international students, and to grant them the same need-based financial aid that domestic students are awarded. We are proud and excited about the swift passage of this resolution, but at the same time, the resolution by itself changes nothing and needs to be followed up with persistent and determined action by students to push our administration to recognize the ways that Tufts is failing to meet the needs of undocumented students.

Colleges and universities across the country including Dartmouth, Notre Dame, University of Chicago, Harvard, Whitman and more explicitly state that they welcome undocumented students’ applications, admit and enroll students regardless of citizenship and use non-governmental resources to grant undocumented students financial support. In light of Tufts’ reputation as a national leader in establishing progressive policies, we expect our administration to prioritize these reforms as many of our peer universities have already done.

Certain members of the Tufts administration have proposed considering students with deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA) status under the category of domestic students. However, there are many barriers preventing individuals from applying for DACA status, including a lack of clear information, a $465 application fee and the justified fear of providing personal information to federal agents. As of March 2013, only 46.7 percent of Massachusetts DACA applicants had been approved. Furthermore, given its strict eligibility requirements, not all undocumented students even qualify for DACA. Although we appreciate this proposal, this step alone is problematic. Much more comprehensive policy changes are necessary to be truly inclusive of undocumented students.

This process will span multiple semesters, and we are asking you, the Tufts community, to act in solidarity with us. Commit to making Tufts a DREAM school in the following ways.

Tufts students, we ask that you:

  • Acknowledge citizenship as a privilege.
  • Consider the history of U.S. international intervention and imperialism that has shaped migration paths.
  • Ask yourself and others to respect, learn and appreciate immigrant narratives.
  • And finally, show the administration that you support the recently passed TCU Senate resolution by signing our online petition, which can be found on the Tufts United for Immigrant Justice Facebook page.

Tufts Admissions Office, we ask that you:

  • Establish an explicit, uniform admissions policy for reviewing undocumented student applications as domestic applicants.
  • Present the policy online for prospective and enrolled students, parents, staff and faculty to read.
  • Show the AS&E Faculty Committee on Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, Dean Glaser, Provost Harris and President Monaco that you support our efforts and believe that these demands are in line with Tufts’ admissions values.

Tufts Financial Aid Office, we ask that you:

  • Follow a need-based financial aid policy in determining financial aid awards for undocumented students.
  • Determine undocumented students’ financial aid packages on the same basis of those of fellow domestic students.

Tufts Administration, we ask that you:

  • Recognize that this issue is complex and intersectional.
  • Pursue strategies to encourage undocumented students to apply to and attend Tufts. These strategies must include but are not limited to: application fee waivers, support for families filing financial aid documents and access to scholarships that students can apply to outside of Tufts.
  • Support undocumented students during and after their time at Tufts.

We urge the Tufts community to acknowledge that the needs of undocumented students applying to and attending Tufts are not being met. As a community, we must mobilize to establish equal opportunity for undocumented students. We need your support as we push our university to live up to its values of inclusion and equal access. Join us in a conscious and deliberate effort to make our campus one that is decidedly pro-immigrant.

In solidarity,

United for Immigrant Justice

Weekly open meetings: Tuesdays 9 p.m. in Eaton 203