Currently, one-fourth of Californians are immigrants, and one-fourth of those immigrants are undocumented. While the phrase "undocumented immigrants" for many brings to mind images of day laborers, an estimated one-fourth of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today have had some college education, either in their home country or in the U.S. This number would no doubt be higher if it weren't for the tremendous financial barriers undocumented students face to getting a higher education.
Take, for example, Adriana. She was in the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District, excelling in the district's AVID program and achieving a 4.03 GPA. But when it came time to apply for college scholarships, Adriana learned that despite her extremely low household income, she would not be eligible for federal, state or UC-based financial aid due to her immigration status.
With persistence, however, Adriana cobbled together enough money to attend Santa Cruz by winning scholarships from four different organizations: Pursuit of Excellence, Silicon Valley Foundation, the MVLA Foundation, and Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC).
Because so few scholarships exist for undocumented students, the competition is fierce. Last year, 176 students applied for nine E4FC scholarships, which are open not just to undocumented students but to all low-income immigrants, in keeping with E4FC's mission to "increase the number of low-income immigrants graduating from college in the U.S." The scholarship recipients had an average household income of $24,000 and an average GPA of 3.71 — often achieved despite little family support and/or while working 15 or more hours per week.
Since these nine scholarships are a drop in the bucket in the face of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students graduating from high school in the U.S. each year, E4FC hopes to extend its impact through education and outreach programs.
"One of E4FC's first projects was to encourage existing scholarships to open up to undocumented students," explains Carrie Evans, the group's co-founder. "We felt that we should lead by example by creating a scholarship that was open to undocumented students."
Both Evans and fellow co-founder Katharine Gin express the highest admiration and respect for the undocumented students they have met. "These students are incredibly hard-working, motivated, and yes, even patriotic," says Gin. "In many cases, they came here at such a young age that the U.S. is the only country they have ever really known. America needs to find a way take advantage of their talent, drive and commitment to making the world a better place."
To donate to E4FC or obtain a copy of their documentary film "Don't Stop Me Now," which chronicles the stories of four undocumented students as they navigate the college and scholarship application process, visit www.e4fc.org. To learn more about the DREAM Act — proposed legislation that would allow certain undocumented students to be put on a path to citizenship if they are willing to complete two years of college or military service — see the Immigration Law Center's Web site at www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/DREAM/index.htm.
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