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Notre Dame to Admit Illegal Immigrants as Students

The University of Notre Dame has opened its doors to illegal immigrants

The private Catholic institution has agreed that “changes in its admission policies…will make possible the admission of undocumented students who successfully compete for a place in its first-year and transfer classes,” its officials recently announced.

“In making the decision to admit academically qualified men and women who are undocumented, we will strengthen our incoming class and give deserving young people the chance for a Notre Dame education,” Don Bishop, associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, stated in a campus news release.

It added Notre Dame is committed to “meeting the full demonstrated financial need for all admitted students.” The total estimated cost for undergrads for the 2013-14 school year, including tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and personal expenses, is $60,117, according to the Notre Dame website.

University spokesman Dennis Brown, in an email to The College Fix, said the decision came about after an ad hoc task force comprised of a dozen faculty members from leading relevant campus units, such as the Center for Social Concerns and the Institute for Educational Initiatives, studied the issue. The committee was launched at the behest of university president Fr. John Jenkins.

“The admission of undocumented students into American colleges and universities has been the subject of discussion in higher education for several years,” Brown said. “Last spring, a small group of Notre Dame faculty and administrators was asked to examine the policies of other Catholic universities, the views of U.S. bishops, federal policy, and this university’s own history. After several months of discussion and reflection, the group recommended the change in policy.”

Brown also noted Notre Dame took into account the public stances on immigration taken by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“This remains, of course, a contentious issue in our society, and we understand that many will not agree with our new approach,” Brown said. “But, by considering the views of the bishops and our counterparts in Catholic higher education, while also using the new federal policy as a guide, we believe that this is the right thing to do.”

Theology Professor Tim Matovina, executive director of Institute for Latino Studies and one of three co-chairs of the immigration ad hoc task force, said the group’s mission was to formulate a project on immigration that would make a substantive contribution to research and knowledge about immigration in the United States at Notre Dame.

“Notre Dame is part of that universal Catholic mission which, at its core, is to evangelize everyone, from all walks and stripes of life,” Matovina told The Fix. “I’m very supportive of the plan. I think Notre Dame did the right thing.”

Rev. Joseph Corpora, who works with Campus Ministry’s Latino Ministries, also praised the new policy.

“I am absolutely delighted and thrilled that the University has decided to admit qualified undocumented students to live and study here,” he said. “This is an historic moment in the life of Notre Dame. There are all sorts of arguments that one can put forth as to why this is a good decision, but, in the end, all these good arguments are trumped by Matthew 25: 31-46: ‘When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.’” 

Since the press release predated most students’ return to campus, the topic hasn’t been broadly discussed by the student body.

Senior Conor Dorgan, an international economics and Spanish major who has studied abroad in three South American countries during his time at Notre Dame, said he had no problem with the new policy.

“The decision to admit undocumented students is consistent with the University’s Catholic character and, in light of the Church’s social teaching on immigration issues, should be less controversial than the larger national debate on federal policy,” Dorgan said.

The question of how Notre Dame’s new policy would interact with federal regulations was the subject of speculation by another student.

Pier Pigozzi, a JSD student originally from Ecuador, said that he wasn’t sure how the policy would fare in implementation.

“It’s a very generous policy,” he said. “I took it as a being very coherent with the Catholic tradition of the university.”

“In practical terms I don’t know how it all will work,” he added. “How this policy will impact the legal immigrants, like myself, who are here, I don’t know. It would be interesting to know the reaction of the police or immigration authorities. It will require a lot of effort in the logistics on Notre Dame’s part to make this happen in a positive way, not just in an abstract act of charity.”

Others shared in Pigozzi’s caution.

Gerard Bradley, professor of law, observed that “the university official in charge of admissions says that admitting persons living illegally in the country will ‘strengthen’ the student body.  It might.”

“But,” he went on, “it is much more important to consider how the relevant moral norms of justice and fairness come to bear on the question of admitting undocumented students and also the further question of providing them financial aid beyond that available to persons here lawfully (because various government student aid programs would be unavailable to the undocumented).”

Brown also addressed the question of financial aid for undocumented students, who would be ineligible by federal law to receive federal funding, such as Pell Grants.

“With any student requiring assistance, undocumented or not, we meet the full demonstrated financial need,” Brown explained. “Since most of our aid packages also include a federal Pell Grant and federal work study, both of which would be unavailable to an undocumented student, the university would make up the difference, which is about $8,200 annually.”

Another professor commented anonymously in an e-mail to The Fix that he has “reason to believe that some benefactors of the university are willing to donate additional resources to Notre Dame to cover whatever additional financial aid costs this policy might entail.”

He added that “given the admissions standards of Notre Dame, one has to assume that we are talking about an extremely small number of [undocumented] students, maybe none in any given year.”

CLICK HERE to read the full statement from Brown on the university’s decision.

Fix contributor Michael Bradley is a student at the University of Notre Dame.

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