Dreamers plight to attain the American dream

Supporters of the DREAM Act gather in support of the proposed DREAM Act before it was passed

Every year roughly 65,000 children who are undocumented citizens, but safe from deportation, graduate from high schools in the United States. Of these 65,000 students, only around five to 10 percent continue on to college, according to the Immigration Policy Center.

In contrast, close to 3.3 million total students are expected to graduate from U.S. high schools this may, and of those, an estimated 66 percent will continue on to attend college, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

These undocumented resident  have become known colloquially as DREAMers. They were brought to the United States at a young age, and protected from deportation by the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

There are an estimated 21,000 students in Arizona that qualify as DREAMers, making it the sixth state most populated by DREAMers.

Many people find the difference in college admissions staggering. There are no government scholarships available to undocumented citizens, even those that are immune from deportation under President Obama’s deferred action initiative. DREAMers feel the lack of support to continue their education holds them back from contributing fully to their adopted country

According to the Immigration Policy Center, an individual qualifies as a DREAMer if they are “under the age of 31; entered the United States before age 16; have lived continuously in the country for at least five years; have not been convicted of a felony, a ‘significant’ misdemeanor, or three other misdemeanors; and are currently in school, graduated from high school, earned a GED, or served in the military”

Each year the U.S. Department of Education awards about $150 billion in scholarships to students according to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). However none of that is available to DREAMers.

Additionally, only 18 states allow DREAMers to pay in-state tuition. Otherwise, Dreamers have to pay full out of state or international student tuition even though they live in the state. Arizona is not one of the 18 states. Arizona barred unauthorized immigrants from in-state tuition via Proposition 300 passed in 2006.

This is unfair, according to Roberto Rodriguez, an award winning journalist and a Mexican American Studies professor at the University of Arizona.

“All students should be treated equally. They should be free to apply to any scholarship. There should be no impediments going to college either because of legislation or due to financial need,” he said.

Opponents argue that if the government gives undocumented citizens scholarship it would take away from scholarships available for legal citizens.

However, there are paths to college available to DREAMers. There are many specialized scholarships funded by private donors.

For the first time last year the Hispanic Scholarship Fund made all their scholarships available to DREAMers. Each year the Hispanic Scholarship Fund awards over 5,100 scholarships ranging from $500 to $5,000.

Based out of California, the Hispanic Scholarship Fund is the largest non-profit organization supporting the higher education of Hispanic Americans. A majority of the scholarships come from donations and sponsorships from various corporations and foundations seeking to support the education of Hispanic Americans.

“It was amazing,” said Anahi Godinez, a director at the Hispanic Scholarship Fund. “The board approved it and about two weeks before our application deadline we worked with partners to get the word out, and a little over 4,000 deferred action students applied,” she said. Deferred action is another common way to refer to individuals effected by the DREAM Act.

The Dream.US has been supplying scholarships for DREAMers since 2013 when the founding board members realized that every year DREAMers were applying for scholarships but were being denied despite impressive academic records.

The Dream.US works together with partner colleges across the nation to pay up to $25,000 for a dreamers bachelor degree program, and its plan is to supply at least 2,000 exceptionally motivated and achieving DREAMers with scholarships over the next decade.

The Dream.US partnered with The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation for the Arizona initiative in 2014 with the goal of matching donations up to $2 million to pay for the college tuition of Arizona DREAMers. 

Gaby Pacheco, the program director at The Dream.US, knows all too well what it is like to be an undocumented citizen attempting to attend college. Pacheco immigrated to the United States from Ecuador at the age 8.

“I was told by my high school counselor that I wasn’t going to be able to attend college, and that I couldn’t apply to any schools. She said I was going to get my family in trouble. She said that I had to realize college wasn’t an option,” Pacheco said.

Although Pacheco said that her counselor told her this with a lot of love and fear, Pacheco could not accept this. She was motivated and a high achiever.

“For me it hurt, but it was what allowed me to feel I needed to prove her and everyone else wrong. I went to college and it was very, very difficult. Many times I paid the whole tuition, but I did begin receiving scholarships,” she said.

Of course there was no way that Pacheco could do it on her own. “My whole family and community rallied around me,” she said.

Support is one of the most import needs for DREAMers seeking to attend college, and scholarship funds like The Dream.US and the Hispanic Scholarship Fund supply that. “A piece that is impactful is the access to resources, mentorship and leadership,” said Godinez.

Although the act is not the solution that everyone can agree upon, it has provided undocumented citizens with hope, and a path to college and citizenship.

“What I see, is that the DREAM Act is an incentive for young kids to go to college. At the end of the day, you have to go to college to begin this process to get a green card. It gives hope, and it allows for people to understand and know that someone believes in us so much that they want to make a legislation and a law to help us,” Pacheco said.

Joseph D’Andre is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at jdandre@email.arizona.edu

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