Immigration

Right-Wing Media Completely Distorts Educational Initiative for Undocumented Students

How poorly can FOX report a story on a new educational initiative that allows undocumented students to receive college credit?

The UCLA Labor Center recently publicized a new, affordable, educational initiative that allows undocumented students to receive college credit. Sounds great, right? After all, it’s the least we can do while we still have a broken immigration system. But when FOX News and their conservative buddies got a hold of the good news, their coverage was, well, awful as always — filled with distortion, wrong numbers and entirely made up facts.

The college credits would come through the National Dream University, an online program offering both undocumented and documented students opportunities to learn about labor and immigrant rights. The UCLA Labor Center and the National Labor College, an accredited higher education institution devoted to union members, partnered up to offer this new one-year program after having much success with educational programs serving immigrant students.

“We’ve had many undocumented students in our classes at UCLA, and we wanted to provide an opportunity for other undocumented students across the country to access college courses,” said Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s labor center.

The 18-credit program, as of now, will costs students $2,490. But Wong hopes, through fundraising, he could raise enough money to subsidize their tuition.

Wong said that Dream University has received a very positive response. 

“There’s been a lot of interest and a lot of support from faculty all across the country and a lot of interest from DREAM Act students,” he said.

The DREAM Act is a proposed bill that would provide undocumented immigrants a pathway to U.S. citizenship through college or armed services.

Wong continued, “Most of the media coverage has been very favorable.”

Except for — you guessed it — the right-wing media coverage.

So, how did FOX twist the story this time?

On an episode of FOX & Friends, commentators suggested that “illegal students” would pay $2,400 to attend Dream University, while “legal students” would “get punished” for their citizenship and be forced to pay $6,642 — a completely fabricated number and concept, as both undocumented and documented students will pay the same costs.

Ready for co-host Brian Kilmeade’s ridiculously offensive summary of this utterly false information?

Kilmeade said that UCLA will:

Offer illegal aliens, people here without any ID, an opportunity to get an education about a third of the price of people that actually belong here.

Other conservative media outlets were quick to follow suit, and pounced on the Dream University program.

“We’ve been barraged by all of these requests for comments by these right-wing journalists, who harass us and just keep spinning all of this misinformation out there,” Wong said.

He said that he’s received threatening emails, especially from people who assume that because he has a Chinese surname that he was not born in this country.

“[They say] that I should be deported along with the students.”

Wong said that now, trying to get the right message out there has been very time-consuming.

This past Wednesday, as the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program went into effect, tens or thousands of undocumented immigrants lined up to receive their two-year reprieve from deportation if they met certain requirements. Wong said that while the DREAM Act is still being fought, he wants to open up opportunities for undocumented students to receive a college education.

“Even though deferred action will now stop the deportation of DREAM Act-eligible students … in most jurisdictions around the country, there’s still no pathway to an accessible higher education,” he said. “That’s what Dream University’s all about.”

While every state, except for Georgia, allows undocumented students to attend its universities, only 13 allow them to pay in-state tuition and only three provide state financial aid.

Wong hopes to have about 35 students entering Dream University come January 2013. Students will earn college credit and can transfer it to other two or four-year institutions, could use it toward a bachelor’s degree in labor studies via the National Labor College, or could seek employment with the labor movement.

Students will learn about the DREAM Act movement and take classes with leaders such as Reverend Jim Lawson, who will teach about nonviolence and social change, and Tom Hayden, who teaches about students and pro-democracy movements.

“We want to build an online learning community of DREAM Act leaders who will help to transform this country,” Wong said. “We think that they will be leading the fight to pass the federal DREAM Act, to pass immigration reform and to open up avenues of higher education for immigrant youth throughout the country.”

As conservatives realized that FOX’s tuition numbers were just plain wrong, they began criticizing this objective itself. Michael Patrick Leahy, a contributor to the conservative Breitbart News, led the charge by taking issue with this goal, absurdly claiming, that the program’s requirement to be committed to social justice and immigrant and/or labor rights was discriminating against applicants based on their political ideology.

“Clearly this is a labor and social justice curriculum,” Wong said. “Any other program you’re recruiting for asks for interests — a business school might ask for ‘an interest and commitment to business.’”

Wong said this is all a part of the right-wing scare tactic of immigrants taking away opportunities from those who were born in the United States. He added that we are a nation of immigrants, and immigrants contribute vastly to our society.

Wong continued:

Immigrants are mainstays in major parts of our economy. If the undocumented immigrant workforce were to be removed, major parts of the U.S. economy would collapse. The right-wing knows that, but they would much rather divide workers against each other and inflame racism than address some of the problems of corporate greed, domination by the one percent and failed U.S. economic policies.

As Wong said, when conservatives push this false narrative that undocumented immigrants are getting a free ride, immigrants end up as scapegoats for the economic crisis, unemployment and other societal issues.  This distracts our society from criticizing the real causes of these issues, while fueling racism and distorting meaningful attempts to improve the lives of undocumented immigrants.