VCU considering enrollment for undocumented students

UndocuRams — a student organization advocating for undocumented students on campus — says the change would be a "step forward." Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Georgia Geen, Executive Editor

VCU might begin accepting and enrolling undocumented students in time to affect fall 2020 applicants, depending on the results of a review of the university’s admissions practices that began this semester.

As the practice stands, the university admits but does not enroll undocumented students who cannot provide some sort of legal documentation. Beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which gives temporary legal protections to people brought to the U.S. as children — already are allowed to enroll in the university.

Sybil Halloran, senior associate vice provost for strategic enrollment management, said she hopes the review will be finished before winter break and anticipates changes will be made.

“One thing VCU prides itself on is access … This [policy] doesn’t really fit into that,” Halloran said. “I would like to see us enrolling undocumented students. This practice that we currently use is over a decade old, it’s dated.”

Halloran said the university will reference the practices of other Virginia schools that enroll undocumented students, such as George Mason University. The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia allows individual universities to establish their own admissions policies for undocumented students and those with DACA status.

UndocuRams co-founder Yanet Limon-Amado said there were inconsistencies in VCU’s enrollment process for undocumented students. Photo by Wessam Hazaymeh

Yanet Limon-Amado, co-founder of UndocuRams — an organization that advocates for undocumented VCU students — said the organization’s members are glad that the practice could be changed. She noted that if the current process were outlined on the admissions website, undocumented students would have saved time and money by knowing ahead of time they would not be able to enroll.

The enrollment processes DACA recipients go through at VCU aren’t consistent, Limon-Amado said, and each member of UndocuRams has had a different experience. After being accepted on the spot at her community college, Limon-Amado went through a straightforward process, she said.

“Luckily my admissions counselor who took my application sent me to the correct person in order to reapply for domicile and get in-state tuition,” Limon-Amado said.

As part of revisions to admissions’ practices, Halloran hopes to ensure staff members have a better understanding of the university’s processes for DACA and undocumented students, including the difference between the two classifications. In a few cases, uncertainties regarding a student’s legal status have led to some being sent erroneously to the international students office, which Halloran said admissions is trying to prevent in the future.

“That’s part of the problem with not having a clear path for undocumented students,” Halloran said. “We’re trying to make sure it doesn’t [happen] going forward.”

VCU’s review of its practice of not admitting undocumented students comes as the Supreme Court’s conservative majority signals it may allow the Trump administration to end the DACA program. In the 2018-19 school year, VCU had the second-highest number of DACA students among four-year colleges at 72. George Mason University had the highest amount with 267.

The court is expected to reach a final decision no later than June 2020, according to the National Immigration Law Center. If the court sides with the Trump administration, the program would likely be phased out, and current recipients would lose their protections as their two-year statuses began to expire.

Limon-Amado said UndocuRams hopes to see VCU President Michael Rao speak in favor of bills that would guarantee in-state tuition for DACA recipients and undocumented students. DACA recipients qualify for in-state tuition in Virginia thanks to a 2014 letter from Attorney General Mark Herring that gives them the opportunity to establish domicile, but undocumented students don’t have the same benefit, and a law would set the policy in stone.

Aside from university support for in-state tuition, other demands from the organization include:

  • The establishment of a private scholarship for undocumented and DACA students 
  • Clarity on the admissions process, including on why immigration officials were involved in the admissions process for one student
  • The establishment of a dedicated staff or staff member to handle admissions and enrollment for DACA recipients and undocumented students
  • Additional mental health resources for undocumented and DACA students
  • Admissions staff and administrators attending a training on how to be an ally for undocumented people, in addition to financial assistance for those giving the training.

The political climate is taxing for undocumented students and DACA recipients, Limon-Amado said, making the potential revision on VCU’s enrollment policy a welcome change.

“This is a step forward to actually having a more inclusive university for students regardless of immigration status,” Limon-Amado said.

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