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Immigration and International Admissions

Back in Summer 2015, Donald Trump rode down the escalator to announce his Presidential  campaign. In the same speech, he accused the Mexican government of dumping criminals and rapists on the other side of the border. Immigration, for better or for worse, has become a signature issue of this election cycle. More specifically, there is an intense debate over what to do with the 11 million undocumented immigrants already in this country. The Obama administration has attracted the ire from Democratic Hispanic groups by deporting more than 2.5 million people, but in June of 2012, President Obama signed an executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allowed undocumented immigrants who arrived before their 16th birthday, have lived in the country since 2007, and were under the age of 31 as of June 2012, to stay in this country through renewable two-year permits.

Here’s where it matters. Every year, high schoolers, potential transfers, and non-traditional students across the world apply to attend Columbia University. We have the biggest international population of any American university, but the vast majority of admissions are still from the United States. If you apply as a domestic student, Columbia considers your application need-blind and meets 100% of financial need. The same isn’t true for international students. If accepted, Columbia will meet 100% need, but it reserves the right to be need-aware when considering your application. This doesn’t necessarily mean international students don’t get aid, as Columbia hands out $11,000,000 in financial aid to international students, but it does mean that your ability to pay tuition may play a role into whether Columbia accepts you. And this is an important distinction, because students who are not citizens or permanent residents of the United States and who do not have refugee visas are considered international. If you’re wondering at this point, yes, this means undocumented immigrants are international applicants, even if they are approved for DACA. The median income for an undocumented immigrant family rests at $36,000, very comfortably below the $70,000+ sticker price of Columbia undergraduate education. So it’s reasonable to assume that under holistic review, there are some high-achieving, low-income students in this country who because of their lack of documents might lose out on a spot at this university.

Looking forward towards 2017, if Hillary Clinton wins, it probably won’t be with an agreeable Congress. This would mean that she would probably continue to enforce DACA through the executive branch until a miracle in the House or 2020. However, a Trump victory would come with a compliant Congress for at least two years. Even with a Democratic filibuster, Trump can just retract DACA with an executive order and deport any and all undocumented immigrants, including childhood arrivals. In this, for an undocumented applicant, this election doesn’t change what your application looks like to Columbia. But, shouldn’t it? If you are attending school in this country, isn’t your experience inherently domestic, unlike an education experience outside the US? Is it unfair to other Hispanic students who did get into this country legally to change this policy? Feel free to destroy the comment section over that debate but remember that getting a spot at any college, especially Columbia, are small already. Questions of fairness touch on the anxiety of trying to get ahead in our society which for one that promotes meritocracy seems to rely a lot on luck. It is unlikely that admitting undocumented immigrants domestically would decrease your chances of getting in any more than Columbia receiving new applications from every student in a school one year. The argument that this is a zero-sum game is a tangent. The argument that people should have a chance to prove themselves isn’t.  

Ufon’s mini-series, Columbia and the 2016 Election, will run through the November 8th Presidential Elections.

The Lion is the only Columbia publication with an open-submissions policy. To respond to this piece or to submit one of your own, email

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