On Illegal Students and Illegal Immigrants

“IMPOSTER CAUGHT,” rang the Stanford Daily headlines.

When it was discovered that a young woman, Azia Kim, had managed to falsely pass herself off as a Stanford freshman for eight months, the Stanford community’s reaction was furious. “We consider these allegations, if confirmed, to be a serious breach of security within the residence halls,” declared Greg Boardman, Stanford’s Vice Provost for Student Affairs. Student Amy Zhou, Azia’s roommate, also expressed worry: “To think that someone I trusted to be a Stanford student with a key was climbing in and out of windows and that I was in the same room all this time really freaked me out.”

Interestingly, Azia was not the only imposter on campus. Within 24 hours, the Stanford Daily reported that another young woman, Elizabeth Okazaki, had been pretending to be a Stanford physics graduate student for nearly 4 years. Responding to this similar incident, Stanford spokeswoman Kate Chesley said, “Stanford is a private institution. […] We have the legal right to bar anyone from the premises, including people we reasonably believe will disrupt or have disrupted operations.” She then added, “We consider this very serious.”

Campus reactions to the illegal students ranged from shock and incredulity to uneasiness and concern. Some Stanford students were sympathetic to the two women’s plight, while others were less forgiving. However, virtually no one suggested that the two women be allowed to stay, let alone be awarded legal status as Stanford students.

Nobody seemed to notice that the logic behind legalizing the illegal students would be broadly similar to the reasons for granting U.S. citizenship to illegal immigrants—something many Stanford students support. Consider the following:

  1. Illegal immigrants come here because America is their dream home. The illegal students come here because Stanford is their dream school.

  2. Illegal immigrants are hardworking, resourceful people who want a better life in America. The illegal students are also clearly hardworking and resourceful, and they believe that a Stanford education will give them a better life.

  3. Some illegal immigrants have lived in America for significant fractions of their lives. The illegal students had stayed in Stanford between 8 months to 4 years—significant fractions of their scholarly careers.

  4. Illegal immigrants are often praised for being deeply religious, family-friendly communities. Illegal student Azia Kim was described by her peers as being deeply religious and having a tight-knit family.

  5. Illegal immigrants are overwhelmingly from one minority group: they are Latinos, and some have endured racism and oppression. The illegal students are both minorities too: they are Korean and Japanese, and both groups have also endured racism and oppression.

  6. The illegal immigrants appeal to American ideals—“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” The illegal students also appeal to Stanford’s ideals. Did not Leland Stanford declare in 1884 that “The children of California shall be our children?”
    By what logic, therefore, is it possible to argue that the illegal immigrants deserve to be legalized as U.S. citizens, but that the illegal students don’t deserve to be legalized as Stanford students?

Less than a month ago, the Reverend Jesse Jackson spoke here at Stanford on a number of topics, including illegal immigration. To wild applause and cheers, he spoke sympathetically of the plight of illegal immigrants and criticized Bush’s “guest-worker” program as insufficient. Mocking the idea that illegal immigrants should be made to learn English rather than Spanish, Jackson said that a language policy of “English-only is a glorification of ignorance and retardation.”

On the flip side, when columnist Pat Buchanan wrote a book suggesting that America take steps to reduce illegal immigration, he was widely denounced as “racist,” “bigoted,” and “xenophobic.” TV personality Bill Maher, for example, declared that the book could be titled “I Hate Brown People.”

Applying the same logic to the Stanford situation, the eviction of the illegal students could just as easily be classified as anti-Asian racism. Moreover, referring to the illegal students as “imposters,” as the Stanford Daily did on its front page, is probably offensive because the term carries pejorative connotations. Applying the euphemisms of the immigration debate to the Stanford campus, the illegal students would be referred to as “undocumented students” or “guest scholars.” Instead of hastily expelling the illegal students and tightening security, perhaps the Stanford administration should consider passing “comprehensive reform measures” that would place illegal students on a path to a full Stanford degree. The illegal students could be given a “temporary Stanford student pass,” which they can renew every year. In addition, they must pay a $5,000 fine and agree to learn English. And so the list goes on.

Beyond a certain point, however, the average Stanford student might begin to find this scheme for legalizing illegal students somewhat ridiculous. When that time comes, perhaps someone might also want to look at the immigration proposals currently being debated in Washington.

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