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DreaMSU hosts presentation on undocumented student access to higher education

November 24, 2020

Access to post-secondary education isn’t a given for everyone. Across the U.S., different policies might restrict undocumented immigrants from attending college, and inconsistent policies can create confusion. Hannah Boyke is a Ph.D. student in the school of social work. On Wednesday, she presented on these barriers to education in coordination with dreaMSU. 

Boyke said that she hoped that attendees would take those lessons away from her presentation, especially one surrounding the legal inconsistency.

“If you’re a senior and you’re trying to apply to school and you’re undocumented, it’s going to be so difficult to really even assess what you can do because of how much variation is in the state policy,” Boyke said. “With the different court cases, you have some court cases affirming it, saying it’s OK and you have other ones saying it’s not OK.” 

Boyke referred to these court cases regarding in-state tuition in her presentation, "Martinez v. Regents of University of California and Equal Access Education v. Merten."

The former rules that states are given the ability to determine residency based on the location of the student’s high school, therefore making in-state tuition available despite immigration status or citizenship, while the other rules students could be denied enrollment solely due to immigration status. The state of Michigan leaves the question of residency up to each university to determine. At Michigan State, a student can qualify for in-state tuition if they have an established domicile, meaning that they treat Michigan as their permanent home, or if they have attended a Michigan high school for at least three years or have obtained a GED. She described MSU as welcoming, rather than expansionist or restrictionist, observing that in recent years they have increased resources for undocumented students.

“I think that they have become a little bit more welcoming, is maybe a word I would say,” Boyke said. “You have situations in the Southwest, with like New Mexico or California, that’s super expansionist because it’s in-state tuition, scholarships, state financial aid, but in the context of Michigan, there’s no framework for them to be expanding.” 

She also warned those in attendance to keep an eye out for a change in the state’s budget that could potentially make the status of undocumented students known to federal agencies such as Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer approved House Bill 5396 on Sept. 30, which includes the following section:

“Any county that enacts or enforces any law, ordinance, policy, or rule that limits or prohibits a peace officer or local official, officer, or employee from communicating or cooperating with appropriate federal officials concerning the immigration status of an individual in this state is not eligible to receive reimbursement from funds appropriated in part 1 to house in jails certain felons who otherwise would have been sentenced to prison.”

Michigan State campus police are not allowed to report a student’s immigration status to ICE, but Boyke is still unsure what this provision will mean for the relationship between MSU, Ingham County and ICE.

“Essentially, counties cannot enact sanctuary policies if they want to still get funding from the County Jail Reimbursement Program,” Boyke said. “I wonder, and I don’t know yet, because it’s still kind of early and I don’t know exactly how that’s going to play out, but that is really interesting just to think about because part of that is, to maintain that funding, you would have to proactively share information with ICE.” 

International Relations and Comparative Cultures and Politics senior Finn Hopkins is a member of dreaMSU and was in attendance at Wednesday’s event. In an email, he said that he felt that this was an important presentation to attend.

“I attended because I believe it is important that we all continue to expand our knowledge on these issues,” Hopkins said. “Coming from a position of privilege as a white male who was born in the United States, I feel it is even more important to seek this kind of knowledge out for yourself.”

In particular, he enjoyed the historical aspect of the presentation, when Boyke described the foundation of injustices faced by undocumented students.

“Her research highlighted how many policies and practices we often accept as "normal" can trace their roots to racism and discrimination, and how they continue to perpetuate those injustices to this day,” Hopkins said. 

Prior to the presentation, dreaMSU Research Officer Raquel Acosta said that Boyke’s presentation aligns well with the issues that dreaMSU is trying to solve.

“She’s an amazing role model, resource and educator that we here at dreaMSU are so thankful to have speaking with us today," Acosta said. Today’s topic is not only important to all students, but also specifically brings light to the exact issues dreaMSU is trying to resolve for students of all statuses.” 

Boyke graduated from MSU in 2017 with a Social Relations and Policy major and focused on immigration and social policy. She then continued her education by getting a Master of Social Work at University of Michigan, where she focused more on criminal justice. Now, in her Ph.D. program, she’s working on different social work research projects, including an examination of the relationship between ICE and local agencies in immigration enforcement.

Boyke accredited her interest in this immigration policy to an original interest in criminal justice.

“When I started learning about immigration, I realized how similar those systems are, but then also how much the law abandons migrants,” Boyke said. 

DreaMSU is a student organization that advocates for more inclusive policies for immigrant and undocumented students at MSU. More information can be found on their Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

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