Although Obama’s administration has promised that comprehensive immigration reform will be prioritized in his upcoming presidential term, the future of the state of immigration policy in Washington, D.C. is still quite uncertain, and US citizens are taking it into their own hands to enact change for illegal immigrants. University of California, Berkeley, announced this week that the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund has donated one million dollars to fund scholarships specifically for undocumented students. A donation this large will provide an undergraduate college education for approximately 200 undocumented students. This donation was made possible by the recent passage of the Dream Act in the state of California, which allows undocumented students to qualify for privately funded scholarships to attends UCs and CSUs, provided that they attend at least 3 years of high school in the state. The undocumented are still legally not allowed to benefit from federal aid (work study, government loans, etc.), and this restriction effectively eliminates the possibility of college for most undocumented students – many have parents who work long hours for low wages and often, barely manage to support their families. Often, these students must also work themselves. The typical immigrant family doesn’t have many thousands of dollars to spend on higher education for their children. The Dream Act and private foundations like the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund are making the possibility of an undergraduate college education very real for a number of intelligent, motivated students in this state.
Many in Washington remain convinced that immigration will be one of the first issues tackled when Obama reenters office in January. Congressmen and women, immigration reform lobbyists, even President Obama himself. If comprehensive immigration reform is achieved, which is the goal of many groups like the Hispanic Leadership Network, what will happen to all of the laws that have been passed in individual states? Any attempt at serious immigration reform has largely failed in recent years, and this has allowed states some leeway in terms of how they choose to treat the undocumented immigrants residing there. Although some have passed legislation in support of the undocumented, like California’s Dream Act, other states have taken the opportunity to impose harsher restrictions – in Colorado, local law enforcement are required by law to report any “unauthorized” immigrants to federal officials. Will immigration reform passed in Washington negate these laws, or simply add to them? Will undocumented students in attending Berkeley a year from now still legally qualify for their full-tuition scholarship? Undoubtedly, this theoretical immigration policy from Obama’s administration would improve the situation of some, while worsening the situation of others, likely depending on their state of residence.
Without a doubt, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund hopes that their donation will motivate others to do the same. They believe wholeheartedly in the potential that immigrants have, documented or not, to contribute to our country, but even more than this they believe that these “motivated, hardworking and inspiring students” deserve the chance to prove it. Opponents have argued, and will continue to argue, that money that provides scholarships for undocumented students is entirely wasted as it is more than likely that these students won’t be able to get a legitimate job upon graduating from an undergraduate institution. While it is true that their future in the United States is uncertain at all times, they are sometimes able to gain residency in time for graduation. Until Obama’s administration and the rest of Washington deliver on their promise to pass comprehensive immigration legislation, it is essential for the future of undocumented immigrants that private foundations continue to believe in this possibility, so that the brightest undocumented students have the opportunity to attend state universities and colleges.