DAVIS, California (AP) – With immigration reform stalled in Congress, a small but growing number of colleges are rolling out their own welcome mats for young people residing in the United States illegally or under temporary deportation reprieves.
Schools in California, Illinois and other states with large immigrant populations are offering in-house grants, scholarships from private donors, law clinics and additional support for such students.
Starting Thursday, University of California President Janet Napolitano will host a two-day national conference on how colleges and universities can better serve their legally insecure students.
St. Peter's University in New Jersey announced in November that it was creating a center like the one at UC Davis. Emory University in Atlanta, New York University and Tufts University outside Boston plan to start allowing immigrant students to enter this fall and compete with U.S. citizens for need-based financial aid.
"The things we do for our undocumented students are no different than what we should do for all of our students, which is help them succeed," said Daniel Lopez, associate vice president for student affairs at Northeastern Illinois University in Chicago, which has assigned an adviser and trained faculty to work with about 265 Eastern European, Korean and Latin American students without legal residency.
The efforts build on the passage in at least 21 states of laws or policies allowing unauthorized immigrants to pay resident tuition rates at public institutions.
The trend has not been without controversy. After California State University, Long Beach created a staffed meeting place for its estimated 650 Dreamers in March, members of the College Republicans chapter at the school asked the system's governing board to intervene.
So far, the Board of Trustees has declined. Three other Cal State campuses have similar programs.
California is one of five states where students who are ineligible for federal aid and loans because of their immigration status can apply for state financial aid.
Immigrant youth in California have found an unexpected ally in Napolitano, a former Homeland Security secretary.
Undocumented students and supporters previously argued that Napolitano had overseen a record number of deportations as head of the federal agency, and they were the most vocal critics of her 2013 appointment to lead the 10-campus UC system.
After assuming the post, Napolitano pledged $5 million to support UC's unauthorized immigrant students, estimated at about 2,000 this year.
Money has gone to financial aid and to fund the Davis student center and related offices at six other campuses. Two lawmakers have proposed expanding to the rest of the state's public universities and 112 community colleges.
Napolitano has earmarked another $750,000 to expand campus-based legal services for students and their families.