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Know Your Rights
Source: Clarion
Subject: Education Justice
Type: Media Coverage

Immigrant students gain allies

Navigating CUNY’s bureaucracy
should be easier for undocumented
immigrants following a November
training session at City Tech that
brought together immigrant rights
advocates and more than 100 professional
staff representing each of
CUNY’s campuses.

“It was the best training CUNY
has ever had in terms of admitting
immigrant students,” said
Jean Weisman, PSC’s HEO chapter

Undocumented immigrants are
eligible to receive in-state tuition
under a 2001 State law if they attended
a New York State high
school for two or more years and
graduated or received their GED
in New York. However, critics say
that CUNY has done a poor job of
applying the law – aspiring undocumented
students have frequently
been charged international rates
and discouraged from enrolling
when told they will have to pay topdollar

Speakers included Midori Hills, director
of legal services for the CUNY
Citizenship and Immigration Project,
who reviewed the complex web of immigration
status issues, and Walter
Barrientos, director of the New York
State Youth Leadership Council, as
well as members of CUNY’s central
administrative staff such as the
University registrar and director for
financial aid services.

Donna Gill, a long-time financial
aid officer at Hunter and an
immigrant from Trinidad, said
Barrientos’ presentation was an eyeopener
for most of her colleagues.

Barrientos recounted his experiences
as an undocumented
teenage applicant to Baruch who
had emigrated to the US from the
Guatemala as a young child.

“You have to understand the fear
students like me experience coming
to your office,” said Barrientos,
now 24. “It’s the first time an official
is asking about your immigration
status. Students like me don’t even
know that they are undocumented.
It’s a shock. Even though they may
not show it, they’re afraid. They were
never asked to prove their immigration
status to go to high school, and
understandably their families are
extremely reluctant to have them say
anything about their status – much
less sign an affidavit.

“If they do sign,” Barrientos
added, “they fear the information
will get to the government or immigration
services or even to their
professors and be used against
them o r t heir f amilies. E ven i mmigrant
students who are themselves
citizens (because they were
born here) worry about revealing
anything that would expose their
undocumented parents.”

Natalia Ariztabal, a Queens
College student and member of
the community group Make the
Road New York
, concurred, saying
“You’re maybe 18 years old and
you’re lost. If you’re given misinformation
over the telephone, it is discouraging
and some students stop
there and don’t even try to apply.”

The rules defining eligibility
status have become increasingly
complex as US immigration policy
has become more restrictive. This
was reflected in the many complicated
questions that were put to the

However, University Associate
Dean for Enrollment James Murphy
emphasized “that our objective is
to enroll students.” In that vein,
Murphy reminded registrars
not to create unnecessary
hurdles for undocumented
students transferring from
one CUNY college to another.
“If a student established their
residency status when they
were accepted to community
college, we shouldn’t be asking
them to do it again – or sending
them back to the community college
to retrieve their documentation.
You should admit the student
and e-mail your colleague.”

While CUNY’s newfound willingness
to train its staff in the intricacies
of immigration law was appreciated,
activists continued to push the
University to reimburse students for
past tuition overpayments.

Katherine Raymond, CUNY’s senior
counsel, said that all appeals
must be in writing and must be
timely. The central office makes
the final decision and does not reimburse
overpayments for more
than the current semester.

To avoid more confusion in
the future, PSC Vice President of
Cross Campus Units Iris DeLutro
suggested that CUNY publish a
brochure, which Murphy agreed
would be useful.

Barrientos also appealed for
broader staff training – including
work study students and staff that
answer the telephone – so that they
properly direct students to someone
able to answer complicated
questions about residency and immigration
status. “If they say, ‘no’
the student won’t come back.”

The training session was the
product of months of organizing
and meeting with CUNY officials.
The effort was led by Make the
Road New York
, the New York State
Youth Leadership Council, Cabrini
Immigrant Services and the PSC.

“As far as I know, this was the first
time in the eight years of this legislation
that CUNY actually provided a
training for admissions staff on how
to implement this,” Barrientos said.
He hopes that the opportunities undocumented
students have at CUNY
will expand with the passage of the
Development, Relief and Education
for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act,
which would grant temporary legal
residency to undocumented students
who came to the US as children and
require them to earn a two-year degree
or serve in the military
for two years to be able
to earn citizenship. Those
who fail to do so would face

The DREAM Act came
within eight votes of passing
the US Senate in 2007
and supporters are hoping
to fare better with a Democratic president
and increased Democratic majorities
in both houses of Congress.
According to,
the measure currently has the support
of 53 senators with another 20
listed as undecided. A super-majority
of 60 votes in the Senate would
ensure the bill’s passage.

“The DREAM Act would apply to
at least 60 to 70% of undocumented
students at CUNY,” Barrientos recently
told Clarion. “They would go
from being undocumented to having
conditional lawful permanent