While two students without documentation made headlines by announcing their non-American citizenships during their valedictorian speeches this past spring, NYU has been helping students without documentation for two years now.
In December 2014, the NYU Office of Admissions announced that financial aid would be available for high school seniors who are undocumented. This was a sign of solidarity for them, as they often lack the means to attend college in the United States.
The Dream Team, a student-led organization at NYU that champions undocumented rights, was credited for challenging the university to provide this plan.
Yet despite the fact that the program headed into its second year, there remains room for improvement. CAS senior Tomas Cruz is the president of the Dream Team, and he thinks that the program is restricted in its overall reach.
“It’s very limited because you have to fit in a very specific criteria to merit the aid,” said Cruz. “They told us that they cannot expand, because they are busy monitoring students who are under the program, and seeing if the students are actually benefitting.”
The program requires undocumented students to be approved by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, reside in New York and have attended a New York State high school for the past three years.
In addition to that, for students to even apply, they must possess a Social Security Number or a U.S. Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The aid is also not extended to undocumented students admitted before 2015.
Therefore, widening accessibility has become a major focus for the Dream Team. The organization has been working with the Enrollment and Financial Aid offices, but they have said that the progress is slow and that pressure from certain students against the program also impedes development.
“There are so many students who are very much politically against giving aid to undocumented students,” Cruz said. “That’s why it’s hard on administration, because both sides of the political spectrum have to come to a reasonable consensus. Obviously, we all want the best deal, but it can’t be done that fast.”
NYU spokesperson John Beckman said that this slow progress stems from the program’s status as a pilot, which is a smaller, trial run to figure out what works.
“We are still in the pilot stage and will be for another two years,” Beckman said. “NYU’s hope is that this effort will help in providing access for undocumented students in admissions and in enabling them to carry through to graduation.”
He said the university’s first step is to work with New York State undocumented students to judge the effectiveness of the program, and they think that they have taken a step in the right direction.
Director of Latino Studies and Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis Professor Cristina Beltran said that she does not work with this program directly but thinks this is a progressive idea for the university.
“I think the problem is that NYU is a very challenging and problematic institution for working class students,” Beltran said. “It is an even direr problem and highlighted for undocumented students because it involves their families having to engage the state.”
She said that she hopes this can be solved with the new Hamilton administration.
Cruz, who knows students without documentation at NYU on a personal level, said that facing government and university officials is stressful for undocumented individuals and that they often feel uncomfortable revealing their status.
Two students without documentation were contacted through Cruz, but both were unwilling to share their experiences due to a fear of exposure. The Dream Team also does not have contact with the 25 students aided by the program.
“The only way to help is for them to come to us,” Cruz said. “They are a small group, and unfortunately, it’s part of a privacy concern, so the Office of Enrollment can’t tell us who they are. But a lot of undocumented students are scared. They are in need of emotional support, and they don’t know where to go.”
He said that among the undocumented community, there is also a heavy demand for resources beyond financial help. Cruz stressed a lack of academic counselors with professional expertise in guiding students without documentation.
“Even something along the lines of providing a list of schools where undocumented students have successfully attended would be helpful,” Cruz said. “As well as a general sensitivity around being undocumented.”
A spokesperson from the Center for Cultural Education and Programs said that it offers a training activity called Dream Zone, which is designed to better educate student allies on the struggles of the undocumented community. However, they confirmed an absence of counselors specifically equipped with knowledge to advise undocumented students.
Beltran thinks that a partnership between undocumented students and the rest of the university is crucial, and she hopes that students without documentation can work with other students also struggling with financial aid.
“They should really prioritize including undocumented students — make NYU serve New York City, instead of the other way around,” Beltran said. “Citizens and noncitizens could truly organize a powerful coalition.”
Email Nina Huang at [email protected]