Notre Dame to welcome, help fund undocumented students

University of Notre Dame Credit Kahunapule Michael Johnson via Flickr CC BY NC SA 20 CNA US Catholic News 5 21 12 University of Notre Dame. / Kahunapule Michael Johnson via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Citing the U.S. bishops' support for immigration reform, the University of Notre Dame has announced that it will now accept qualified undocumented students who apply for undergraduate admission.

"In many ways, Notre Dame is itself a university of immigrants," university spokesman Dennis Brown told CNA Aug. 26.

"While the legal circumstances are certainly different, we have a long and proud history of educating the marginalized and least among us. This is a central component of Church teaching and our mission as a Catholic university."

Brown acknowledged that the status of immigrants is "a contentious issue" in the U.S. and many will not agree with the new policy.

"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," he said.

Previously the university required a student visa from non-citizen applicants.

It is unclear how many applicants will be affected by the change. The university does not have data about undocumented students turned away under the previous policy. It also has no estimates of how many declined to apply because of the previous policy, Brown said.

The policy change came after a small group of Notre Dame faculty and administrators conducted an examination of other Catholic universities' policies, the views of the U.S. bishops, federal policy, and the history of the university.

The U.S. bishops' conference has strongly supported immigration reform and the Dream Act, which would allow eligible undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors to seek legal status. Brown noted that the bishops have supported the legislation to ensure that these children "are not punished for their parents' actions."

The Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, whose members include Notre Dame, has asked its members to enroll and help undocumented young people. It cited Catholic social teaching as one reason for the request.

Brown stressed that the University of Notre Dame is not the first Catholic university to adopt such a policy, which is already in place at numerous other colleges.

The University of Notre Dame also said that it is "committed to meeting the full demonstrated financial need for all admitted students."

Over half of Notre Dame students receive scholarship aid from the university, with an average award of more than $30,000.

"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," Brown said. This difference comes to about $8,200 annually.

The university will only consider applicants who meet the requirements of the new federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. That policy, enacted last year by the Department of Homeland Security, grants a stay of deportation to undocumented U.S. residents brought into the country as children before the age of 16. They must have continuously resided in the U.S. since June 2007 and must not have been convicted of a felony.

Don Bishop, Notre Dame's associate vice president for undergraduate enrollment, said on Aug. 22 that the policy change "will strengthen our incoming class and give deserving young people the chance for a Notre Dame education."

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