Justin Peligri: A scholarship to support the undocumented

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

College is expensive for most families, but for children of undocumented immigrants, it is nearly impossible to afford.

The Associated Press reported last month that “many states treat illegal immigrants as international students, charging them hefty out-of-state tuition regardless of whether they were raised in the state.”

And the Republican party’s official platform states that the federal government should have the authority to withhold funding to public universities that permit undocumented students to pay in-state tuition.

With threatening calls from Republicans to limit federal funding, state universities could hesitate to offer scholarships to undocumented immigrants. As a private university, GW should take this opportunity to establish a specific scholarship geared toward undocumented Americans, giving them the chance to pursue an education.

Encouraging immigrants to get degrees by offering scholarships would not only break the cycle of poverty among illegal immigrants, but it would also benefit the nation as a whole. More educated people in the workforce would undoubtedly lead to future innovation, which would in turn help develop a more robust economy.

While it is not illegal for universities to accept undocumented immigrants, they are not allowed to file for financial aid because of their undocumented status. Immigrants did not benefit from the $163.4 million the Student Financial Assistance office allocated this year to help students pay for tuition.

For most children of illegal immigrants, college is too expensive to even begin to consider. A study published by the Associated Press Aug. 24 shows that 5 to 10 percent of undocumented Americans who graduate from high school decide to apply to college. A scholarship specifically for this demographic would offer an incentive to pursue higher education.

Hampshire College, a small liberal arts institution in Amherst, Mass. plans to do just that. The college announced last week in a press release that it plans to support one undocumented immigrant every four years with a $25,000 grant. As time progresses and donations increase, the college hopes to raise enough funds to support one student yearly.

Hampshire’s special scholarship is funded through private donations. The University’s Division of Development and Alumni Relations, tapping into a network of 250,000 living alumni, should search for graduates who would be interested in establishing a fund for undocumented Americans.

“The University does not have a specific scholarship identified for residents who are not legally in the United States,” Dan Small, the Associate Vice President for Financial Assistance said in an email.

But a growing trend among educated communities shows that immigrants largely benefit society, and can be a tremendous resource to our own economy.

Whereas 47 percent of individuals with a high school degree or less think that immigrants are bad for the country, a mere 20 percent of people with a postgraduate degree feel the same way, according to a Gallup Politics poll from 2011.

Even though strides have been made under President Barack Obama’s administration with an executive order that granted legal residency to high-school educated undocumented residents, the future for the undocumented looks foreboding if he is unsuccessful Nov. 6.

So until we have legitimate immigration reform laws on the books, we should make educating the undocumented Americans that live here a priority.

Institutions of higher learning like GW have an important obligation to start a national trend.

Justin Peligri, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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