Undocumented Student Scholarships: UC Berkeley Sets $1 Million Fund To Help Dreamers

The University of California, Berkeley has announced the formation of a $1 million scholarship benefiting undocumented immigrant students, the largest such fund at any university in the country.

Established with a gift from the Evelyn and Water Haas Jr. Foundation, The Dreamers Fund will go toward helping some 200 students from 20 different countries when it goes into effect early next year.

"We are committed to advancing rights and creating opportunities so that all people can live, work and raise their families with dignity," Haas Jr. Fund President Ira S. Hirschfield told NBC Bay Area. "These motivated, hardworking and inspiring students are an asset to our state and our country."

While undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition, they are barred from receiving Pell grants, federal government loans or participating in work-study programs.

"I'm so grateful for this opportunity," Uriel Rivera, an undocumented UC Berkeley student who had drop out when his family was unable to keep up with tuition, told NBC Latino in a statement. "You're just not paying for a student to go to college, you are helping a whole community."

The $8,000 scholarship will be awarded to undocumented UC Berkeley students with at least a 3.0 GPA on the basis of need.

However, some students have been critical of the minimum GPA requirement.

"[Undocumented] students usually work two jobs and take care of family and have to deal with psychological distress, and getting 3.0 for…[undocumented] students is not easy," UC Berkeley senior Ju Hong explained to Berkeley's Daily Californian. "But the financial office mentioned that even if you don't have a 3.0 GPA, you are still encouraged to apply. So everyone has a chance to apply and receive $8,000 based on financial need."

The Dreamers Fund is named after the federal DREAM Act that would have granted conditional permanent residency to undocumented immigrants who came into the United States as young children if they completed two years of military service or higher education.

After congressional Republicans blocked efforts to pass the bill in 2011, President Barack Obama announced a similar program that would offer undocumented immigrants who would have qualified for the DREAM Act a path to residency.

Last year, California passed its own version of the DREAM Act, which made undocumented immigrants eligible to receive scholarships offered by individual state colleges and universities as well as the Cal Grants that subsidize tuition for low- and middle-income students.

It was only following the passage of this bill that the Haas Foundation was able to establish The Dreamers Fund.

This scholarship fund isn't the only recent development at UC Berkeley geared toward helping undocumented immigrants on campus. A $300,000 gift from Elise Haas is targeted for the construction of a special resource center for said students. Additionally, earlier this year, the university also hired its first undocumented student program coordinator to assist in navigating various aspects of university life.

Check out this video of Hong talking about life as an undocumented student at UC Berkeley: