DePaul has the money to pay

May 23, 2017

At Chicago's DePaul University, students approved a referendum initiated by the organization Undocumented Students and Allies to create a scholarship fund for undocumented students. Pointing out that undocumented undergraduates aren't eligible for federal aid, the referendum called for support for "our fellow students who, like we, dream of obtaining an education from DePaul." The referendum, which was subsequently approved by University President Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, will be funded by a $2 quarterly addition to the Student Activity Fee.

In a statement published in an edited version at the DePaulia, the DePaul Socialists hail the initiative taken by undocumented students--and ask what more the university could do to show its support for vulnerable students.

IT'S WONDERFUL to see that the SGA referendum, initiated by Undocumented Students and Allies (UVA) to create a scholarship fund for undocumented students, has passed. While immigrants pay close to $12 billion a year in taxes, undocumented students are ineligible for federal college funding as well as for many grants, work study jobs and loan programs. On top of that, they face xenophobic harassment and the threat of ICE's racist violence.

A "yes" vote demonstrates a strong message of solidarity with undocumented students, showing that DePaul's community overwhelmingly rejects the politics of racist division fomented by the Trump administration and its supporters on campus. Sending such a message, in the context of an escalation on Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE's) part--from a record number of deportations under Obama to an even more vicious campaign of repression and deportation under Trump--is more urgent than ever. DePaul Socialists hope that this act of solidarity can be a step towards building a movement on and off campus capable of winning further-reaching demands in defense of immigrants.

Construction site for the new DePaul sports arena
Construction site for the new DePaul sports arena

Since last November's inauguration, several events on campus hosted by a number of organizations have called attention to attacks on immigrants on campus and in Chicago, with many ideas about how to respond: from defending and expanding Chicago's status as a sanctuary city, to pushing the DePaul administration to do more to support and defend undocumented students (up to and including keeping ICE agents off campus), to engaging in civil disobedience to fight ICE attacks.

Despite fruitful discussion and the many ideas that have been presented to connect individuals with organizations doing important work on and off campus, little consensus has emerged on what immediate actions to take, and how to unite various campus organizations behind a common strategy for supporting and defending undocumented students. In this context, UVA deserves immense praise for their bold scholarship initiative.

THE URGENCY of the moment raises questions of strategy which deserve frank discussion. We should be asking why this initiative is even necessary at a university which purports to stand for social justice and "Vincentian values." We should ask why scholarships should be funded by an increased student activities fee at a university with a $420 million endowment. We should think of DePaul's much-criticized downtown arena project, with its price tag of $175 million, and whether those funds--which could provide free tuition for 4,812(!) undocumented students--might have been better allocated towards helping decrease tuition, which has risen more than 400 percent in the last 35 years.

For these reasons, DePaul Socialists have argued that it would be useful to pair UVA's referendum with demands placed on the DePaul administration. Given DePaul's endowment and alleged commitment to social justice, asking for dollar-for-dollar matching of funds raised via the activities fee seems too modest: to start with, why not ask that DePaul commit to providing $100 for every $1 raised via increases to the student activities fee. Without such an act, the administration demonstrates unwillingness to match the student body's desire to show solidarity with undocumented students. In winning a new "Point-of-contact for Undocumented Students" from the university administration, we see potential for students to win further use of DePaul's wealth for improving conditions for immigrant students.

This in our view only skims the surface of demands that ought to be placed on the administration regarding its support (and lack thereof) for undocumented students. We should demand that the administration, first and foremost, refuse to allow ICE agents entry to campus. But beyond basic defensive demands, we should fight to expand access to health care services for undocumented and working class students, provide housing, and show support for undocumented people in the broader Chicago community.

Raising demands like these and organizing to pressure the administration into accepting them might be an opening into other ways students can demonstrate a practical commitment to acting in solidarity with immigrants. In Chicago's Rogers Park neighborhood, a group of residents have formed an "Emergency Response Network" which has made plans to use civil disobedience to block ICE enforcement actions. Students from many organizations and political persuasions might come together to form such an organization on campus--providing an avenue for action even for those not inclined to trust the administration's promises in response to demands from students.

The support garnered by UVA's initiative shows that it is possible for individuals and organizations who support undocumented students to unite in action across a great diversity of political perspectives and persuasions. Imagine what we could accomplish together by asking and organizing for more.

An edited version of this statement appeared previously at the DePaulia.

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