Fighting for the American dream | May 1, 2009 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

- May 1, 2009

Fighting for the American dream

by Jennifer Pence

A senior at UC Santa Cruz majoring in earth sciences, Adriana expresses her passion for geology both through her enthusiastic descriptions of her studies and through her 3.84 GPA.

For those who are concerned about how few Americans, particularly women, are choosing to pursue degrees and careers in the sciences, Adriana should seem like a shining example of the future of America. Instead, the American government's position on Adriana is that she should be deported immediately, since her mother brought her into the U.S. illegally when she was 13.

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 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

Mountain View resident Jennifer Pence is founder of the Windmill Giving Circle and founder and owner of Academic Springboard, a tutoring group. She can be reached at


Like this comment
Posted by What about US citizens?
a resident of Castro City
on May 3, 2009 at 9:05 pm

We should make sure that every US citizen who wants to go to college can go BEFORE we give scholarships and grants to illegal immigrants. Many, many US citizens are denied their chance to go to college because the costs are prohibitive.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the average American's savings may be near .0% of their disposable income. What this means is that in a startling number of households, college is out of reach.

With limited savings, job losses, and the difficult economic times we are in, it makes little sense to give scarce money to people who are illegally in this country when so many people legally in the US cannot afford necessities let alone a college education.

Additionally, the economic downturn and budget crisis have caused many colleges and universities to reduce the number of new applicants and transfers, and many students can't get their classes because of overcrowding. There is a set amount of seats at each college and when any portion of those seats is filled by an illegal immigrant, someone else is displaced. When illegal immigrants receive grants, scholarships, work programs, etc., illegal immigrants are literally stealing an education from US citizens.

It is unfair that illegal immigrant students get the same tuition, as California residents when in reality, illegal immigrants should pay out-of-state tuition. How can you be legal for state purposes and illegal for federal purposes?

Furthermore, since these illegal immigrants are so bright, why don't they go back to their own countries, finish their education, and fight for their rights there. Oh that's right, it wouldn't be free.

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Posted by PL, MA
a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 3, 2009 at 10:31 pm

These students are American in every possible way save for a piece of paper. It is ludicrous to deny them higher education after having invested in them from K-12. Instead, we should be encouraging them to attend college and pushing for their legalization so that they can better contribute to their country--the United States of America.

Numerous studies on in-state tuition have thoroughly refuted the myths of 'displacement' or any economic devastation--in fact, educating undocumented students always brings more $$$$ into the state coffers since students who would not otherwise attend college, can afford to do so.

Education is not a zero sum game. We need to make college available to everyone. THAT does not mean that we deny undocumented students who have grown up here a chance to attend college. If there are not enough seats, build more schools. An investment in education can never be a loss to any society. I applaud the E4FC for all the work they are doing in trying to ensure that everyone who wants to go to college can do so.

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Posted by Mr. Bernard
a resident of Blossom Valley
on May 4, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I am highly disappointed that 'illegal' students do not get to show or develop their skills. I am a retired teacher and i find it really sad that students i once thought would become future leaders and politicians are now lowering themselves by giving up their dreams and working in low-wage jobs. My students were amazingly intelligent, not only are these 'illegal' students multilingual....they also catch up very quickly with other subjects if given the right resources. Many times it is us teachers who are forced to ignore them after we see their grades lower; however their grades lower for various reasons, i notice that many of them live in poverty and come from broken homes - yet many of them still try and do not give up during high school. They give up around Junior and Senior year once they realize their college Major will not be able to be used to get a job since they are "illegal". What a waste of talent. Many of these students are artistic as well, naturally artistic. To be here looking at how many waste their talent and potential because of ridicule and oppression saddens me. These students had the chance to become great productive citizens...but it seems we will never give them a chance to sprout and shine because of draconian laws. We are punishing students who were brought here "illegally" without their knowledge. Only to try and escape corruption, poverty and starvation from their country of origin.

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Posted by Team USA
a resident of Jackson Park
on May 4, 2009 at 3:48 pm

From a global competitiveness perspective, we need all the talented students and workers we can get. Why would we not want to keep smart, ambitious people in the US? We need them playing for team USA -- immigrants have always been key to the American spirit of innovation. It would be foolish and short-sighted to deport this talent pool; give them green cards and put them to work!

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Posted by O
a resident of Castro City
on May 4, 2009 at 10:28 pm

That's real nice. What about local native students whose parents are so proud of themselves for having made it big without any help that they now feel, their kids should completely make it on their own as well? When I applied for financial aid at 18, I was told my parents owned too much in assets. I asked my parents for money and they flat out said to "get a job." In other countries, I could have sued my parents for an education. We're all messed up here. My last QA job was outsourced to India and the position I applied for was given to someone with better qualities from another country. Thanks!

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Posted by Why?
a resident of Castro City
on May 4, 2009 at 10:29 pm

I wish people were more aware of the many bright, ambitious US citizens who cannot afford to go to college. I do not understand why there is so much help and sympathy for illegal immigrants and so little help and sympathy for US citizens and legal immigrants.

We have spent a ton of money on illegals for their k-12 education. Money and resources we do not have and which are taken away from US citizens. If we enforced our immigration laws, then the k-12 money that is spent on illegals could be used to help improve our k-12 classes or for college grants and scholarships for US citizens.

We should not be using scarce resources on illegals. Furthermore, our schools keep screaming that they do not have enough money, that they need to raise taxes, or they need another parcel tax to keep our schools going. Our colleges and universities are cutting classes and services because they do not have enough money to operate. So why are we giving money we do not have to people who are illegally in the US?

We cannot afford to take on the world’s poor when we have so many US citizens who are poor and in desperate need of help. Why is there so little concern for the plight of struggling US citizens and legal residents?

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Posted by Child criminals - NOT!
a resident of Whisman Station
on May 7, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Let's be clear here - we are not talking about undocumented immigrants in general, only undocumented students who were brought here at a young age by their parents. Blaming these children for coming to the U.S. when they didn't even know what was happening to them is like blaming an infant for being in the shopping cart at the time his mom was shoplifting. These children did not knowingly commit a crime, and all they want is to be productive American citizens.