Hannah Keyser > Junior > Ancient History > University of Pennsylvania
Applying to college is stressful. For most high school seniors, however, getting an acceptance letter is just the beginning of their anxiety. The thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of dollars it costs to get a higher education is often a concern, if not a deciding factor, when selecting a post-graduation path. Although the majority of students will have to confront this issue in one way or another, every year about 65,000 graduating undocumented immigrants do not have the saving grace that is financial aid or work study.
It is not illegal for undocumented immigrants to apply to college, and many who graduate from American high schools do so. However, because of their immigration status, these students cannot apply for federal financial aid, qualify for in-state tuition in 40 states, or legally hold a job to defray some of the expenses.
Many of these students, like Juan Gomez, who arrived from Columbia into JFK airport at only one year old, grew up in America after being brought here by their parents.
“As I progressed through the American school system, I picked up more and more American attributes,” Gomez, a finance and operations and information management major at Georgetown University, remembers. Among these was a desire to go to a top school like those his classmates aspired to. Gomez says he realized that he simply didn’t have the same opportunities.
“The problem was both financial and how some schools factored in the financial standing of undocumented students into their admission decisions,” he says, “Some schools don’t allow undocumented students to apply altogether.”
Maria Marroquin, who immigrated from Peru with her parents and sister when she was 13, recalls a similarly disheartening experience of watching friends leave for top tier universities and knowing even the schools she had been accepted to were not a viable option because of financial restrictions.
Both students enrolled their freshmen year at local community colleges. Marroquin spent five years paying her own way as an international student at community college, only able to afford one or two classes a semester, before finally graduating with an associate degree in social sciences and a 3.9 GPA. “Those five years were really difficult because I felt I would never finish,” she remembers, but she was unwilling to burden her parents with the tuition cost.
After one year at community college, Gomez was accepted as a transfer to Georgetown and received a school-funded scholarship. However, Gomez’s parents had been deported the summer after his senior year of high school; Gomez and his brother were only able to remain in the U.S. on behalf of a private bill submitted by Senator Chris Dodd from Connecticut and initiated by his friends’ national campaign. Gomez says living without his parents ever since has been one of his biggest obstacles.
Through their own experiences and through the stories of other undocumented minors, both Gomez and Marroquin have been inspired to become involved in the proposed DREAM Act.
The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act is a bipartisan effort to provide undocumented immigrants who meet certain qualifications with the same opportunities to attend college as their peers. In order to be covered by the DREAM Act, individuals must have entered the United States when they were younger than 16 years old, have lived within the U.S. for at least five years, have received either their high school diploma or GED, must be between the ages of 12 and 35, and be of “good moral character.”
If the DREAM Act is passed, qualified students would be granted six years of conditional permanent residency. During this time, they must complete at least two years of undergraduate study or two years of military service. If these stipulations are met, after five and a half of the six years have passed, the individual will then be able to apply for legal permanent residency and consequently will be able to apply for United States citizenship.
Most importantly, the act is designed to not only benefit the individual with funding for college, but also to ensure that immigrants who grew up in the U.S. are able to gain the citizenship status necessary to apply their education to a career.
Students looking to get involved can look into local rallies and marches like those attended by Gomez, or log on to Dreamactivist.org, a group co-founded by Marroquin as a forum for undocumented minors.
The DREAM Act has been passed over in Congress several times, but Gomez has faith it is only a matter of time: “These students are very resilient and are tired of living in the shadows,” he says.
The DREAM Act rewards immigrants who were not old enough to understand the legal issues surrounding their entry into the country for their hard work: graduate high school and begin college or military service and they can “earn” their citizenship. Do you think this kind of direct reciprocity is fair? Should there be more, fewer, or different qualifications and requirements necessary to earn citizenship?
Images courtesy of nysylc.org and eltecolote.org.