Miami Dade College student Dianeli Mendez is one of the college’s twenty-two recipients of a national scholarship for undocumented college students. First announced on February 11, TheDream.US provides higher education funding for students drawn from the nearly half-million immigrant youth who have received a deportation stay under the Obama administration’s DACA order (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).  The Dream is a reference to long-delayed national legislation that would give conditional permanent residency and in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrant college students.

“I get paid $8.50 an hour, and I work 40 hours,” says Dianeli, 22, in a write-up on The Dream web site. “If I didn’t have the scholarship, I would never have been able to go to college.” She lives with her sister and her sister’s children.  Two of her sisters work at a plant nursery, as did Dianeli for several years.  She plans to use her education to become a classroom teacher. “I want them to be proud of me,” she said. “To think, ‘my sister is smart and is doing something good.’”

Dianeli wants to tell other students, “Don’t be afraid. When I was in high school, I didn’t have my documents, so it felt like many doors were closed. I didn’t even do the SAT or the ACT because I thought, ‘I’m not going to be able to go to college.’ Now I know that there are people who believe that we – the DREAMers – will be someone.”

Scholarships like Dianeli’s will cover up to $25,000 in tuition-related expenses. Applicants must be a first-time college student with a 2.5 or greater GPA and be DACA-eligible or approved. Beyond a commitment to their own academic achievement, selected scholars are required to help support a community of other  immigrant students through peer mentoring. So far, 39 scholarships have been awarded nationally, with the twenty-two students at Miami-Dade College receiving  the largest share of any participating higher education institution.

The scholarship awards were announced at MDCs National Historic Landmark Freedom Tower, where students signed their scholar commitment forms and heard remarks from the group’s founders. College President, Dr. Eduard J. Padrón, who sits on the board of advisers for TheDream.US, spoke at the event.

“The DREAM movement began at Miami Dade College when a group of undocumented students walked to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and state their case before Congress,” said Dr. Padrón at the ceremony. “These students – the DREAMers – are among the finest we have ever served: hard-working, dedicated and motivated.”

Among group’s founders on hand at MDC were Donald Graham, former CEO of The Washington Post, Candy Marshall president of TheDream.US  and Gaby Pacheco, an alum of MDC and a DREAMer who has played a national role in attraction attention to the plight of undocumented students.

The founders of TheDream.US say they have raised $25 million and plan to disperse scholarship funds for up to 2,000 students. Other prominent organization advisors include Henry Munoz, CEO of Kell Muñoz Architects Inc. and National Finance Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Commerce under President George W. Bush.

“As a country, we need this generation of talented, highly motivated DREAMers to help build the prosperity of this nation,” say the group’s founders on their web site.  “We are selecting DREAMer Scholars who are highly motivated and want nothing more than a college education that will allow them to participate in the American workforce. We have a cost-effective business modelthat ensures that scholarships funds go to finance the students’ education.”

Unlike other scholarship programs, The Dream restricts its participation to students planning to attend one of 12 community colleges, four-year schools and one online program. “We are partnering with quality college institutions that offer career-ready, affordable associate’s and bachelor’s degrees (some for under $25,000) and are focused on college completion,” says the web site.

For a complete list of participating institutions, click here.

Funding for the group comes from a number of high-profile philanthropic groups such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Inter-American Development Bank and the Graham Family.

As undocumented immigrants gain the right in more states to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities, their need for financial aid has sharply come into focus.  Barred from federal financial aid and most state programs, such students often struggle to finance and complete college on their own.

PHOTO: MDC DREAMer students sign their scholarship agreements while MDC President Dr. Eduardo J. Padrón, TheDream.Us founder Donald E. Graham, DREAMer Gaby Pacheco and TheDream.Us President Candy Marshall look on.

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