Michigan universities offer help for undocumented students

By CHAO YAN

Capital News Service

LANSING — Several public university officials in Michigan said they will continue to work to keep tuition rates lower and campuses friendly for undocumented students, even as the federal government launches policies that are viewed as unfriendly to many immigrants.

President Donald Trump ordered the construction of a Mexican border wall on Jan. 25 and is expected to curtail immigration, which has caused stress among undocumented students.

In 2012, President Barack Obama launched the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which granted undocumented immigrants work permits and temporary residency, a status that must be renewed every two years.

As of September 2016, Michigan had nearly 11,000 approved DACA recipients and was ranked 24th in the nation, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“If the DACA gets repealed, it will mean that lots of ‘Dreamers’ will lose their jobs, or they lose the ability to afford going to college, because many of them pay out of their pockets,” said Jose Franco, founder of One Michigan, a Detroit-based organization that provides resources to immigrant communities. “People’s fear that they won’t have a legal way to work could influence thousands of Michiganders.”

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities has expressed concern about the future of DACA, saying a change in policy could adversely affect undocumented students’ ability to pay for college.

While Michigan has not passed a law granting in-state tuition to undocumented students, most state public universities, including the University of Michigan, Ferris State University and Lake Superior State University, have applied in-state tuition rates for undocumented students who meet the Michigan residency requirements, according to the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.

Daniel Hurley, chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities, said undocumented students should be given opportunities to learn and work in Michigan.

“It is a social economic issue, not a fiscal one,” Hurley said. “And what we need is many people to come to this state. Anyone who wants a better education and to contribute back, come up here. I don’t say we don’t need a reform of federal immigration policy, but we do need to provide in-state rates and access to undocumented students.”

Kaylee Moreno, director of the Center for Latin@ Studies at Ferris State in Big Rapids, said the school will continue to be a welcoming environment for undocumented students to learn and build community.

“Our center will continue to assist Latino and non-Latino students of various statuses to navigate their post-secondary options,” Moreno said by email.

At Ferris, DACA students are eligible for in-state tuition but not state and federal financial aid. The university works to find other sources of aid for them, Moreno said.

DACA-qualified students at Ferris State who have a work permit ID are able to apply for on- and off-campus jobs.

Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie has a “one-rate” tuition plan, which means students who live in North America, including Mexico and Canada, pay the same tuition rates.

“For me it would make this a pretty friendly place for somebody that was undocumented because they don’t have to declare their residency for the in-state tuition,” said Annette Hackbarth-Onson, director of admissions at Lake Superior State.

Some federal lawmakers are also working to protect DACA students. Franco, of One Michigan, mentioned the Bar Removal of Individuals Who Dream of Growing Our Economy, or “BRIDGE Act,” which was introduced in December by Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, and Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois.

“It is a bill that helps those students have some protection similar to DACA, and that’s something that is being worked on right now,” Franco said. “This BRIDGE Act could be a replacement of DACA, but more at the legislative level, not just an executive order.”