March 7, 2013

Cornell Organization to Give Scholarships to Undocumented Students

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With the cost of attending Cornell’s endowed colleges approaching $60,000 a year, the DREAM Team, a student organization, is awarding $5,000 in scholarships to the University’s undocumented students — an act it hopes will alleviate the financial burden students ineligible for federal aid often face.

The organization was able to fund the scholarships through the Perkins Prize, an award it received from the University in April for its advocacy on behalf of undocumented students.

Conservatives have opposed reforms that would provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, arguing that doing so would unfairly burden taxpayers and exacerbate illegal immigration. But across some college campuses, administrators, including President David Skorton, have urged Congress to support undocumented students for the sake of keeping their talent in the U.S.

“Many of us have lost sight of the important contributions immigrants have made — and are making — to our culture and our economy,” Skorton said in a letter to Congress published Wednesday. “Their continued contributions are critical to our country’s success.”

The belief that “higher education should be open to anyone who wants to pursue it” drove Esmeralda Arrizon-Palomera grad and others to provide the scholarship. Arrizon-Palomera said that because undocumented students are ineligible for federal aid or loans, they often find it “very difficult” to pay their way through school.

“These students pay tuition through many different ways. … Some of them are lucky enough to be funded through private organizations that offer scholarships to undocumented students, but others do have to work for themselves, taking time off school to make money,” Arrizon-Palomera said. “It’s very difficult completing school without being eligible federal aid.”

Although with $5,000 to offer and at least 10 applicants to distribute the money amongst, DREAM’s scholarships will be modest in scale, Adrian Palma ’13 said that a small amount of funding could make a big difference in an undocumented student’s life.

“Even if we award $500 to someone, that could really go a long way to helping a student get through the semester — whether they need new tennis shoes or need to pay for transportation to go home for spring break,” Palma said. “A lot of undocumented students are from very low socioeconomic classes, so that’s the idea … to help give people the opportunity to purchase their basic necessities.”

He added that, although DREAM originally planned to use half of the $5,000 Perkins Prize for the scholarships, it later decided to use all of the funds because of the pressing need for aid among the undocumented student community.

“The point of the scholarship is basically to really help alleviate at least in a small way some of the financial obstacles that undocumented students face,” Palma said. “The initial plan was to give out $2500 in scholarships and use the rest of the money for other purposes — maybe funding for trips, events to put on — but in the end we decided the need for financial aid is real in the community.”

Both Palma and Arrizon-Palomera said that they have reached out to the administration in the hopes that the University will ultimately expand the financial aid it can offer undocumented students. Currently, undocumented students at Cornell are not eligible for federal aid or loans, and they can only apply to receive funds from a limited pool of financial aid international students can receive, The Sun previously reported.

Thomas Keane, director of financial aid for scholarships and policy analysis, said that in an effort to support undocumented students, the University is trying to “expand our financial aid program for international students through fundraising efforts.”

He added that “President Skorton continues to advocate for the DREAM Act[’s] passage at the federal level.” The act, if passed, would allow some — but not all — undocumented immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, which would allow them to apply to federal aid programs like the Pell Grant.

Although with the DREAM Act stalled in Congress, it is unlikely undocumented immigrants will be granted a pathway to citizenship in the near future, President Barack Obama’s deferred action program has given some undocumented students a slight reprieve. The program, which was instituted in June, grants some undocumented immigrants a two-year window in which they are protected from deportation.

Keane said that students who have qualified for deferred action receive multiple benefits, including “the ability to work and get paid in a legal manner and [have] the fear of deportation [removed].”

But Palma described the benefits of deferred action, which still bars undocumented students from applying for federal loans or aid, as being “very limited in a sense.”

DREAM’s scholarship is “an indirect reminder to the Cornell administration and to Cornell alumni that the need for aid is still there,” he said.

“I think there’s a lot of red tape and a lot of politics that will make it hard to change anything,” Palma said.

Original Author: Akane Otani