After President Obama signed into law DACA, or "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals," this past August, over 300,000 eligible undocumented students rushed to submit paperwork. To anyone following the hard work done by advocates of the Dream Act over the last 11 years, this should come as no surprise. There is an enormous desire for higher education among all Americans, regardless of citizenship or financial status.
At University of the People -- the world's first non-profit, tuition-free, online university dedicated to opening access to higher education -- we were thrilled when we heard the news that Dreamers would have a chance, albeit temporary, to study and work legally in the United States. However, we also knew that only two million of the 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States qualify for DACA or the Dream Act, leaving millions behind who are still locked out of institutions of higher education.
This is why we decided to launch an Undocumented Immigrant Scholarship Fund, so that we may support all those in the U.S. who wish to better themselves and their communities through an advanced degree regardless of legal standing. At UoPeople we offer all students a tuition-free education, through our unique combination of e-learning and peer-to-peer learning with open-source technology and Open Educational Resources. To remain sustainable, we charge students nominal fees for end-of-course exam processing. With this scholarship, those nominal fees will be covered for those undocumented immigrants in greater need.
To be eligible for the Dream Act or DACA, individuals must have arrived in the U.S. before their 16th birthday, be under 31 years of age, continuously resided in the U.S. for the past five years, and not convicted of a felony or significant misdemeanor. Also, these students will have to renew their status every two years, and, even with DACA, may still not be eligible for school funding.
We wanted to create an opportunity for the many undocumented immigrants who don't fit this profile, or are unable to renew their status in two years, should that still be a possibility.
In fact, we are already serving students in the U.S. who dreamt of a higher education, but do not qualify for the Dream Act. Such is the case with J., a Guatemalan and one of UoPeople's current students, who has all the qualifications for the Dream Act and DACA, except for the fact that he is 33.
"I came as a teenager to the U.S. After graduating high school, it was extremely difficult for me to get an education before UoPeople. I tried community college, but they told me I didn't have proper documentation. Also, there were no funds available for me. Everyone rejected me because of my legal standing. My whole life I have worked hard, with 12-15 hours a day in restaurants while I also paid to learn English as well as take computer courses. If not for UoPeople, I would not have been able to further my education. Now I am putting all my efforts into my courses at the university. I am studying business administration. This is a real dream for me."
To deny the ability to attain a higher education to 12 million undocumented immigrants is a tragedy on a human rights level, but also on an economic level. Many undocumented immigrants pay their significant share of taxes. According to Arianna Huffington, "Contributions from undocumented immigrants using fake Social Security numbers total 10 percent of the annual Social Security surplus, which is about $50 billion. Low-skilled immigrants contribute as much as $10 billion to the U.S. economy every year." (Right Is Wrong, by Arianna Huffington, p.236 , Apr 29, 2008)
Imagine if these hard working individuals were better educated, and thus were able to secure higher paying jobs, and contribute even more back to the society. Isn't that what America is all about? If anyone epitomizes pulling themselves up from their bootstraps, it is undocumented immigrants.
University of the People is proud to recognize the right of every single human being on this planet, regardless of legal status, to attain affordable and accessible higher education. Educational discrimination, especially in a country such as America, is a tragedy. Within every one of us lies the potential to excel and contribute back to our communities, countries, and ultimately, the world. Let's stop the educational discrimination and embrace the concept of enabling everyone to reach their potential.