The group of undocumented students who gathered at the City University of New York this month to recognize their selection as scholarship recipients looks more diverse than one might expect. From countries as different as Haiti, Poland, South Korea, and Zambia, all are enrolled at CUNY with the help of TheDream.US scholarship fund.
Eighteen young men and women, known as Dreamers, spoke with The Chronicle about their uncertain status. Some described feelings of sadness and isolation when they started trying to apply to college. Others expressed thanks for their scholarships and recognized family members and advisers who had helped them along the way. Many wished that more people in academe were better informed about the needs of and resources for undocumented students. Some expressed fear about changes in immigration laws that would affect them or their families.
The goal of TheDream.US is ambitious. “We say we want to be the Pell Grant for undocumented students,” says the program director, Maria (Gaby) Pacheco. The first national college-scholarship fund created for undocumented immigrant youth awards up to $25,000 to high-school or community-college graduates seeking to complete their bachelor’s degrees. Students must have federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status or may qualify under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
“The program is growing exponentially,” says Ms. Pacheco. Started as a pilot program in 2014, the scholarship has grown from $1 million to $81 million. Despite that rapid growth, however, the effort faces obstacles nationally. Rules vary from state to state. According to a report by the Immigration Policy Center, an advocacy group, of the 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from U.S. high schools annually, only 5 to 10 percent go on to college.
One certainty is that emerging immigration policy will be a hot issue as America enters the next presidential election cycle.
By Julia Schmalz and Vincent DeFrancesco