Zuckerberg Gift Allows Undocumented to Pursue Dreams

Even though Diana Duarte Duran was able to get in-state tuition as an undocumented student at Phoenix College, paying the tuition bill was still a difficult thing to do.

“It was still kind of hard because my parents, they have to pay rent, all the bills,” Duran, 19, explained. “I wasn’t getting any federal aid. We don’t get food stamps. So adding another bill, which is college, is hard.”

Things got easier, however, after a former high school teacher told Duran about THEDREAM.US—a scholarship program created specifically for undocumented students known as “Dreamers” who have secured temporary permission to stay in the United States through the Obama administration’s “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” program, or DACA. THEDREAM.US scholarship is for Dreamers who have demonstrated significant unmet financial need.

Duran applied for and received a THEDREAM.US scholarship, which covered all of her $1,250 tuition at Phoenix College and provided $500 for books.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave $5 million recently to THEDREAM.US.Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, gave $5 million recently to THEDREAM.US.

“It took care of the whole thing,” said Duran, who is majoring in paralegal studies with hopes of entering law school. “It was a true blessing.”

 THEDREAM.US—an Arlington, Va.-based initiative begun in 2013—will help hundreds more Dreamers such as Duran thanks to a $5 million gift the organization secured recently from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

“This is just a small step toward creating immigration and education solutions that help our community and country make progress,” Zuckerberg said in a recent Facebook post. “If we help more young immigrants climb the ladder to new opportunities, then our country will make greater progress.”

Zuckerberg’s gift will go toward creating college scholarship programs for more than 400 young immigrants in the San Francisco Bay area over the next five years.

It is part of a larger effort by THEDREAM.US to make college affordable for undocumented students through arrangements with partner colleges in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois, New York, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The scholarships help first-time college students or community college graduates who meet certain criteria, such as a 2.5 GPA in high school or a 3.0 GPA in community college.

THEDREAM.US is the brainchild of co-founders Don Graham, chairman and CEO of Graham Holdings; Henry Muñoz III, chairman of Muñoz & Company; Carlos Gutierrez, former Secretary of Commerce under President George W. Bush; and Amanda Bennett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, investigative journalist and editor.

Graham—speaking with Diverse recently—said a major thrust of THEDREAM.US is to call more attention to the educational plight of undocumented students.

“The issue of the unique situation of the Dreamers needs to be better known,” Graham said. “College admissions officers understand it. But there’s a lot of very sophisticated people who never understood there’s over a million young people in the U.S. who are denied the opportunity to go to college.

“The doors of the college are open but they have to pay much more,” Graham said of undocumented students, who are not eligible for federal financial aid.

At least 17 states permit certain undocumented students who have attended and graduated from their primary and secondary schools to pay the same tuition as their classmates at public institutions of higher education, according to the National Immigration Law Center.

Arizona is not among them, but a judge recently ruled that public colleges in the state may offer in-state tuition to DACA students.

Duran, who came to the United States from Mexico at age 7 to be with her parents, who are commercial cleaners, says she hopes to become an attorney who specializes in family law, immigration or criminal defense.

THEDREAM.US, she says, is helping her to realize a college dream that she never even had.

“Growing up before executive action was announced, I never thought I would go to college,” Duran said of the Obama administration’s DACA program. “I didn’t think I would go to college because I was undocumented.”

Now, she’s hoping to transfer to a four-year university. “Hopefully this will be my last year of community college,” she said.