In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Barack Obama made a major push for national immigration reform. But there is more to be done here. American universities can take important steps within their own walls to help undocumented students become productive contributors to the U.S. economy. The University should revise its financial aid policy to provide an affordable education to undocumented students.
Currently, under Obama’s deferred action program, undocumented immigrants who can prove that they came to the U.S. before they were 16 years old, have no criminal record and are pursuing an education can apply for a work permit and avoid deportation for at least two years. But undocumented students at Cornell — many of whom have grown up in the U.S. and consider themselves American — are still not eligible for the same financial aid as their peers with U.S. citizenship.
Recognizing that undocumented students often struggle to afford college educations without being eligible for aid, President David Skorton wrote in an opinion column Monday that Cornell may have to “rethink our approaches to financial aid in ways that are sensitive to undocumented students’ new legal status.” This is encouraging language. Expanding the access to financial aid for which undocumented students are eligible will help dozens of students at Cornell complete an increasingly expensive college education.
Some who oppose such measures claim that these immigrants steal jobs from American citizens. For positions that require an advanced degree, they are wrong. Giving smart, motivated undocumented students U.S. citizenship is the right thing to do — economically, pragmatically and above all, morally. As Skorton stated in his column, the Partnership for a New American Economy has calculated that by 2018, there will be more than 230,000 unfilled jobs in science, technology, engineering and math fields — even if every new American STEM graduate finds employment after graduation. Furthermore, the Partnership for a New American Economy has suggested that allowing undocumented students to attend college and legally work in the U.S. will add 1.4 million jobs to the economy.
While we recognize that the path to citizenship for undocumented students is out of the University’s hands, we urge Cornell to use the power it has to increase these students’ access to an education they can afford. We are encouraged by Skorton’s desire to open Cornell’s doors to all qualified students, and hope to see that vision translate into tangible reforms to the University’s financial aid policies.