When Irma Becerra took over as president of Marymount University in 2018, one of the first tasks presented to her was finding funding for some of the nearly 80 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients on campus.
I think I was a president for a week when the students were sitting around my table and saying this has to happen, Becerra recounts of her first meeting with the Marymount Dreamers Club.
One of the things that the club really needed was resources, Charlene McCall, president of the Dreamers Club, told VOA. A lot of undocumented students had a lot of trouble finding scholarships, because you’ve got an application, it says, ‘Are you a citizen? Are you an international student? Where do I fit in the box?’
Recipients of DACA have legal protections in the United States, though they were brought into the country illegally as children. Theyre able to go to school and pursue higher education in the country, but they are not eligible for federal financial aid.
Whether they are eligible for in-state tuition is determined state by state, and most available funding is through private scholarships such as TheDream.US.
Roughly 25 universities are registered as recipients of this fund, which provides incoming students with $7,000 the equivalent of a Pell Grant.
As soon as the Dreamers Club presented information on this scholarship to Becerra in late 2018, she began working on it. By fall 2019, Marymount welcomed seven incoming freshmen and transfer students on TheDream.US scholarship.
Ashly Trejo Mejia chose to attend Marymount after she was offered the scholarship. But she said the search for a school that could offer her any financial help was daunting.
It was scary, she said, noting how her experience was different from most of her classmates.
I applied to many schools. I applied out of state, in state, just to see wherever I would get any help. I would call the schools and see if they offered any help or not. Thats how I would try to figure everything out.
Though Becerra is happy her school was able to provide these incoming students with scholarships, she is still pushing for a bigger fund to provide tuition assistance for more, if not all, of the schools DACA recipients.
For me, its personal, she explained. My family left Cuba when I was eight months old, so I understand what it is like to have to leave your country with no assets, with nothing, she said.
Becerra points out that her experience as a political refugee was different.
I was able to get a Pell Grant, get work, get loans. I put myself through college. And my heart really aches for students [that] have so much merit, because our DACA students are top of their class. Theyre such hard workers, they’re top performers, and they want to get a degree.
Universities like Marymount are working on a school-by-school basis to help fund the education of DACA recipients, but a wider solution across the country rests in the hands of the Supreme Court.
In 2017, President Donald Trump canceled the DACA program, arguing that the previous administration established the program without proper statutory authority.”
His decision was challenged by lower courts. The Supreme Court heard arguments for either side late last year.
The Court will release its decision on the case by June, but some think the decision could come as early as February.
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