Months after UNM’s student governments passed resolutions to make education cheaper for undocumented students, the UNM administration has expressed further support.
UNM President Robert Frank said Friday he personally supports providing in-state tuition to DACA-qualified undocumented students.
“If they’ve grown up in New Mexico and went to high school here, I don’t know why they shouldn’t get in-state tuition,” he said. “If they’ve been here forever, to contribute, I think they should.”
Frank said he applauds the University’s student governments for taking a stance on this issue. He said his administration has been addressing the matter through the UNM Vision 2020 plan.
And he said the University fully encourages undocumented students’ education on campus.
“In general, we’re supportive of encouraging children who have grown up here but are undocumented getting an education,” he said. “We believe that it’s a way of them becoming productive members of the society. We believe education inches people on in their lives.
So, we believe this is the right thing to do.”
In September, UNM’s Graduate and Professional Student Association made a unanimous decision to pass a resolution that supports allowing students here under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative to qualify for in-state tuition. The resolution was presented to GPSA’s Legislative Steering Committee on Sept. 20, and passed by the GPSA Council at a meeting on Sept. 28.
Frank said undocumented students would not only benefit UNM but also the state economy in the long run. He said he understands the burdens undocumented students face when it comes to their education.
“They have irregularity in their life and the fear of deportation,” he said. “To those students, that’s a heavy burden for them. Many of them are prohibited from pursuing jobs they want to pursue. We want them to engage in society. This isn’t a full step toward citizenship, but we want to help facilitate that.”
GPSA Chief of Staff Matthew Rush said the resolution calls for DACA students to be given the same opportunities as other out-of-state students who wish to apply for in-state tuition at UNM.
“We did not see it any different than a normal, out-of-state student coming into the state and establishing residency,” he said. “At that point, they can apply to receive in-state tuition.
Rush said the driving argument for the resolution was that students who establish residency and contribute to the economy should be allowed in-state tuition.
“It makes sense that if undocumented students are here, working and contributing to the state income, they should be able to be qualified, as any other normal student, to receive in-state tuition,” he said.
The resolution does not call for students under DACA to receive any special treatment with regard to receiving in-state tuition, Rush said. He said the DACA students would simply have the same standards as out-of-state students who have received in-state tuition in the past.
“We didn’t think that they should be treated unfairly and receive in-state tuition ahead of time,” he said. “But just as any normal students, they should receive the ability to get in-state tuition after establishing residency.”
According to a report from the Sept. 20 LSC meeting, the resolution applies to students who have not attended a New Mexico high school. Students who attend a New Mexico high school are given in-state tuition and can apply for the Lottery Scholarship, according to the report.
“DACA students, who did not graduate from a (New Mexico) High School, are currently unable to have UNM recognize that they are (New Mexico) residents after they fulfill the requirements that all other out-of-state students must fulfill as well,” the report states. “Due to this, they are unable to get in-state tuition.”
The resolution is very similar to one that the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico, the undergraduate student government, passed earlier this year, Rush said. He said there is one addition to the resolution that states a coalition be formed to further support undocumented students.
According to the resolution, GPSA “requests the UNM administration to assemble a coalition of groups to provide information on current policies and options available, support services and work with undocumented and DACA students.”
Rush said the main organization that deals with assisting undocumented students is El Centro de la Raza.
“It’s really kind of an unspoken rule for undocumented students that the people who are going to help them is El Centro de la Raza,” he said. “To my knowledge, they do have staff there that are trained to understand the needs and concerns of these students.”
As a result, the resolution indirectly calls for El Centro to receive more support to extend their services in order to continue assisting undocumented and DACA students, Rush said.
“(The administration) currently has undocumented students attending the University here,” he said. “El Centro should either be supported monetarily or staff-wise to help these students.”
Rush said that even if the resolution calls for help to extend beyond El Centro de la Raza, GPSA does not believe any responsibility for helping undocumented students should be taken away from El Centro.
“We don’t believe that El Centro should receive any less responsibility from it,” he said. “We don’t think that priority should be taken away from them, because they’re doing a great job supporting these students.”
According to the resolution, GPSA’s stance was sent to various entities, such as Gov. Susana Martinez, the New Mexico State Legislature, the Board of Regents and the offices of UNM’s president, of the vice president of Student Affairs, of the vice president of the Office of Equity and Inclusion and of the Registrar.
Rush said that at the moment, he is unaware of any of the organizations speaking directly about the resolution.
Still, Frank said the initiative’s future depends on the federal government. He said the University cannot enact the policy and start providing in-state tuition to these students until the government approves it on the federal level.
“At the end of the day, it has to be fought on in Congress,” he said. “At the University level, we don’t have much of a vehicle to make it happen … We want to give these students the opportunity to live the American dream. We’re very hopeful it passes.”