US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Notre Dame's underreported immigration decision: Why is no one talking?

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

In the midst of the U.S. Catholic bishops' renewed push for immigration reform, news from the University of Notre Dame quietly trickled out last week that the school has changed its policy on undocumented students. In a brief press release, Notre Dame announced that those who are undocumented are now fully able to apply to the university (technically they could apply before as "international students" but only if they had a student visa). And what's more, Notre Dame said it will be helping with financial need for qualified students who can't afford the roughly $60,000 a year it costs to attend the university.

With all the rhetoric surrounding the immigration debate and the U.S. bishops' recent focus on the issue, you'd think this story would get a lot of coverage. And yet strangely, I've heard hardly a word about it.

The Washington Times reported the story last week, including the odd detail that the university declined to comment about the decision (a Notre Dame spokesman did talk to Catholic News Agency this week though). It even took me a few minutes to find the press release on Notre Dame's own website. Other smaller news outlets have picked up the story, mostly reporting it in brief. Yet in our modern news cycle that's more opinion than news, almost no one is giving an opinion.

Even the Cardinal Newman Society, self-appointed judges of which schools do and do not deserve to call themselves "Catholic," ran only a brief blurb on their website about it, not offering any praise nor condemnation for the move. That's unusual for the always-opinionated CNS, which hasn't exactly had glowing praise for Notre Dame in the past.

Of course, it is no secret that there are plenty of Catholics who disagree with the U.S. bishops' official position on immigration reform because it conflicts with their own political views. Perhaps some are hesitant to criticize Notre Dame for a decision that clearly is in line with the bishops' position on this issue, even if it doesn't fit with their own. Still, I'd expect there might have been some blow back and harsh criticism directed at Notre Dame over this, especially when it comes to using university funds to help pay the way for undocumented students. (What does it say about our society when we've become so used to divisiveness and negative attacks that it seems strange when there aren't any?)

Even more so, I'd think there would have been some in the pro-immigrant camp who would be trumpeting the move as a step in the right direction and urging other Catholic universities to follow suit. Yes, Notre Dame isn't the first Catholic school to adopt such a policy, but they may be the most high profile, and it could be a trendsetter.

It remains to be seen if this story will get any more coverage or criticism. But I'll make a bold move and be among the first to give credit to Notre Dame for giving smart, talented young people a chance to succeed and to receive a quality education, regardless of their citizenship status. It's a move that may not be popular in some circles, but it is consistent with Catholic teaching on the respect for human dignity. And it deserves to be applauded--or at least recognized.

Image: Michael Fernandes cc via Wikimedia Commons