While the nation fixates on Donald Trump's vitriolic anti-immigrant plan — a plan that effectively delivers the presidency to the Democratic candidate in 2016 — a very different and refreshing approach to immigration has emerged here in Memphis.
Christian Brothers University recently announced a $12.5 million initiative to educate DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) kids. DACA kids are children who were born elsewhere and brought here by their parents, which makes this population ineligible for higher education federal grants and loans. Also under current Tennessee law, these students must pay out-of-state tuition. DACA kids attend our public schools. Many graduate at the top of their class and dream to achieve success through education and hard work. Enrollment for post-secondary education, however, is complicated and, in most cases, prohibitively expensive.
The "Latino Student Success" initiative at CBU, founded in partnership with Latino Memphis, builds on the philosophy of the 17th-century French aristocrat Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, who gave up his fortune and dedicated his life to educating the poor. The initiative also acknowledges 21st-century American reality, i.e., demographics: Hispanics comprise 18 percent of the nation's population; they are a potent force as consumers, as investors, and, increasingly, in the political arena. In the upcoming presidential election, the Hispanic vote will be crucial in many states but especially significant in the so-called swing states — Nevada, Colorado, North Carolina, Virginia, and Iowa.
CBU has financed the program with a $3.5 million seed grant and plans to raise $9 million for a total of $12.5 million. The money will allow them to offer tuition at cost and provide no-interest loans to students who must pay back $50 per month on the loan — symbolic money for many of us, but these monthly payments inculcate financial responsibility. CBU also ingrains the mantra that students will "enter to learn, leave to serve" and that they should serve the Memphis community.
This type of creative financing could be a model for all schools in the city, and Christian Brothers University hopes to grow its Hispanic population from where it was two years ago (3 percent of total students) to 10 percent next fall, with a continued climb up.
This program is admirable for (at least) three reasons: First, it's a humane and creative way to help educate young students who seek a college education and hope to become productive participants in society. Second, it acknowledges the fact that Hispanics make up about 10 percent of the Memphis population. And finally, it's eminently practical in that it forces people to choose a side in a debate that ought to be a nondebate: Are you on the side of providing or denying educational opportunities to young people in the city and county? The university is making a worthwhile investment in the Latino population, because, according to Dr. Anne Kenworthy, vice president for enrollment at the university, "they represent the future of this city."
This intelligent, local, and progressive approach has been overshadowed by a very different, but related, news story emerging from the Trump presidential campaign. Trump released his first policy paper — a piece of magical nonrealism in a campaign that's already outlived its usefulness.
Trump's national campaign is fueled by his money and a rabid, angry Republican base that is anything but Christian in its simmering hostility toward Hispanics. Trump calls for construction of a "beautiful" wall. ("I want it to be so beautiful, because maybe someday they're going to call it the Trump wall.") He's called for the mass deportation of 11 million people and modification of the 14th Amendment to take away "birthright citizenship." No serious candidate speaks like this, and, although his candidacy will fail, he has been successful in driving his fellow candidates and his party to an indefensible position on immigration.
So let's tune out Trump and focus on the good people at Christian Brothers University here in Memphis. They represent what's true and great about America. They're providing an excellent education to the underprivileged among us, they're building our community, and their optimism is evident and inspiring.
Bryce Ashby is a Memphis attorney; Michael J. LaRosa teaches history at Rhodes College.