Scholarships Give Undocumented Students Hope for College

“As an undocumented student, you lose hope… because before DACA, there weren’t many options for you.”

By Joy DiazOctober 8, 2015 11:28 am| ,

It’s college application season, and for many colleges the due date is next month. That means now is the time for writing essays, rounding up letters of recommendation and – lest we forget – figuring out how you’re gonna pay for a college education.

There are loans, of course, if you qualify. There are also scholarships. Typically, if you’re undocumented, you’d be on your own. But a contested executive order on deferred deportations, better known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, could mean money in the bank.

When Pedro Villalobos started college, DACA didn’t exist. “It was really hard to find scholarships just because most of them require that you be a citizen of this country or a legal permanent resident,” he says. “So, at a certain point when you are trying to find funding for college – as an undocumented student you lose hope – because before DACA there weren’t many options for you.”

Then, after Villalobos got his BA in 2012, President Obama issued an executive order that would prevent him from being deported. When he applied for a spot at the University of Texas at Austin Law School, and got in, most of his expenses were covered – and mostly through scholarships.

Foundations and benefactors, like former Washington Post CEO Don Graham, have put millions of dollars into a scholarship fund for immigrant students whose parents entered the country illegally.

There have been close to 500 Dream Scholars and they represent most every continent, including Latin America. But that’s a small number of people compared to the 665,000 students who are protected from deportation through DACA.

Cristina Jimenez is one of the founders of United We Dream. It’s a non-profit that helps connect immigrant students with resources. She says few students even know they have financial options.

“Scholarship programs are still limited, but they are available,” Jimenez says. “You have many schools that have opened up scholarship programs. Different states, organizations like MALDEF – for example – have been providing scholarships to undocumented students for a long time.”

As for Villalobos, if immigration laws do not change by graduation day next year, he won’t be able to work as an attorney in this country. Some may wonder if he’s wasting his time and scholarships.

“I see it as an investment in myself, as an investment in Texas and as an investment in the United States,” Villalobos says.

Villalobos’ parents recently became legal residents. They had waited 16 years for immigration authorities to process their paperwork. In that time, Pedro Villalobos aged-out of his parents’ application. He had to start his own – from scratch. He’s hoping it wont take another 16 years to process his paperwork.