Immigrants
Internet resources for what you need to know about NYC Immigrants
Five Favorite Sites For Beginners

The Topic
Immigrants are foreign-born people and their families who enter the United States and settle. This is a catch-all phrase that usually includes everybody from the U.S-born children of foreigners to naturalized citizens to the undocumented.
The Context
New York owes much of its growth and character to its traditional role as the point of entry and settlement for immigrants from all over the world. The city may now be experiencing the largest wave of immigration in its history, with immigrants and their children making up to as much as 60 percent of the city's population. Most of today's immigrants come from Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the former Soviet Union and are, for the most part, younger and darker than immigrants from the past. While the federal government sets overall immigration policy, state and local policy directly affects immigrants on a wide range of issues, from education to health care to political representation.
The Reporter
Dulce Reyes Bonilla is a Dominican-born immigrant rights activist formerly on the staff of the New York Immigration Coalition.
The Archives
See past monthly updates for Immigration.

By James Wong
Guest Reporter

City University Hikes Tuition For Undocumented Immigrants

Beginning in the start of the Spring 2002 semester, "undocumented and out-of-status students" at the City University of New York will be charged the higher out-of-state tuition rates. CUNY officials said the change was necessary in order for CUNY to come into compliance with a five-year old federal law. The new policy affects all undocumented immigrants no matter how long they have lived in New York.

Since 1989, any undocumented immigrant who could prove they were a New York resident or who had attended a state high school for the previous two semesters was charged the in-state tuition rate. The policy was an outgrowth of an executive order issued by Mayor Koch in August of 1989 that stated, "any service provided by a City agency shall be made available to all aliens who are otherwise eligible for such service unless such agency is required by law to deny eligibility for such service to aliens." This order was reaffirmed by both Mayor Dinkins and Mayor Giuliani, making CUNY one of the only institutions of higher education in the country that treated undocumented immigrants as state residents.

The change in policy, announced in November by Frederick P. Schaffer, Vice Chancellor for Legal Affairs of the university, comes after a review of CUNY's policies on foreign students prompted by the terrorist attacks of September 11. In a memorandum issued to college presidents and the board of trustees, Schaffer concludes that "the University must change its prior tuition policy regarding students who are undocumented or out-of-status aliens. Effective next term, undocumented or out-of-status alien students must be treated the same as out-of-state U.S. citizens (as well as foreign students here on student visas)." The memorandum goes on further to say, "the University remains deeply committed to maintaining its proud tradition of welcoming and educating all immigrants. We must, however, implement that commitment in a manner consistent with federal law."

That law is the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, a federal law passed by Congress at a time when anti-immigrant and xenophobic sentiments were very strong throughout the country. The law states that any undocumented student "who is not lawfully present in the United States shall not be eligible on the basis of residence within a State for any postsecondary education benefit" unless all U.S. citizens are also eligible. Although the law does not specifically address in-state tuition, the initial reason CUNY decided not to change the policy, the current administration interpreted lower in-state tuition as a "postsecondary education benefit."

The decision to raise tuition has many worried about the limited opportunities available for undocumented immigrants seeking an affordable higher education, already unable to receive either New York State or federal financial aid. City College Professor of Psychology William Crain is one such person concerned about the effects of the chancellor's decision. He told The Word, Hunter College's student newspaper, that the tuition hike "is a very cruel decision that will force thousands of students to drop out of school."

Tuition for community colleges will rise from $2500 a year to $3,076, and the cost of attending a four-year college will more than double from $3,200 per academic year to $6,800.

"Some students may drop from full time to part time," said a CUNY official in the Chronicle of Higher Education. "Some students may not be able to go, and some students will find other ways to cope."

According to CUNY estimates, nearly 3,000 of its 200,000 students are undocumented, with the majority believed to be in community colleges. But the actual number might be far higher. Prior to the new policy there was no place on the application for students to say that they were here illegally. Many came here with their parents a long time ago and have attended public schools in New York for years. The Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that undocumented children could attend public elementary and secondary schools.

The announcement was made two days after a report in the New York Times that State Senator Frank Padavan, (R-Queens) told CUNY that in the wake of the attacks of September 11, "allowing illegal immigrants to study at CUNY was both a national security issue and 'an insult to every citizen and legal immigrant seeking a higher education.'"

Marjorie Stamberg, a Hunter Adjunct, believes the timing to be related. "It's clear that they [CUNY] were under political pressure, and it's clear that it's part of the whole atmosphere in which civil rights and civil liberties are being cut back across the U.S.," she said in the Word.

Liam Jambeck, a senior at Hunter College and a member of the Student Liberation Action Movement, SLAM, a radical student group based at Hunter organizing around educational issues and issues that affect people of color, is very critical of the new policy. "This outrageous act is further evidence of the institutionalization of anti-immigrant discrimination that has only been fueled since September 11."

In order to offset some of the new financial burden placed on the undocumented, CUNY has established a special payment schedule that allows students to defer additional tuition payments over the course of the semester without interest, enabling students to avoid laying out more money during registration. "We're trying to do everything we can to retain as many students as possible," said Michael Arena, University Director for media relations, recognizing the economic strain the new policy places on many students and their families.

CUNY has also set up three "help-centers" to provide free services to immigrants seeking information about their status. Some of the services provided are help in obtaining permanent residency if qualified and answers to questions about international student status.

CUNY's decision comes at a time when California and Texas have both recently changed their laws so that undocumented immigrants are charged the in-state tuition rates. California avoids conflicting with the federal statute by allowing any student who attended high school in the state for three years and who graduated to be eligible for in-state tuition, instead of using residency requirements.

Critics of the tuition hike, including Professor Crain, don't see why CUNY can't do the same: "The law has no implementing regulations and there are many ways to comply with the law" without having to raise tuition.


Dulce's Five Favorite Sites For Beginners:

  • Immigration and Naturalization Service, the federal agency (within the United States Department of Justice) that provides services to immigrants (answering questions, processing applications for visas and for citizenship, etc.) and at the same time enforces the nation's immigration laws. INS also has a New York City district office and the New York Asylum Office
  • The New York City Mayor's Office Of Immigrant Affairs and Language Services, assists immigrants in a range of services and information. Here you can link to information about, for example, the New York Police Department New Immigrant Unit, where specially trained police officers conduct sensitivity training in the precincts and at the police academy, lecture at meetings of immigrant groups and work with the ethnic media. (212) 374-5112
  • Citizenship NYC, a city program, assists immigrant recipients of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and federal food stamps to become citizens. (888) 374-5100
  • New York Immigration Hotline - open 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday and providing free and confidential information in 15 languages (Arabic, Bengali, French, Haitian-Creole, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Polish, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, and Urdu) about everything from immigration law to employment discrimination to health referrals to a list of non-profit agencies that assist immigrants. (718) 899-4000
  • National Immigration Forum, a national pro-immigration advocacy group, with a rundown of facts about immigration, current issues, useful links.
  • Genealogical Resources in the New York Metropolitan Area, published by The Jewish Genealogical Society, for those wishing to do research on their immigrant ancestors.


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