The University of California, Berkeley announced on Tuesday that it is launching a new scholarship fund exclusively for undocumented students on campus. The “Dreamers Fund” will start with a $1 million dollar donation from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Junior Foundation.

Immigrant students demonstrated for the Dream Act in 2004. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Undocumented students in California are eligible for some state-funded scholarship programs but are ineligible for federally financed financial aid. A separate $300,000 grant from Elise Haas will be used to start a resource center for undocumented students.

“Twice as many jobs are created in California by immigrants than by native born Californians,” Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau told NPR reporter Richard Gonzales. “Our economy needs these people. We cannot afford to waste this talent.”

Berkeley is aware of about 200 students who are undocumented, Birgeneau said. About 65,000 graduate from U.S. high schools each year.

The $1 million is not an endowment; it will be paid out to undocumented students over the course of five to 10 years, said Birgeneau. But he added that other donors are already giving money for undocumented students and that a large foundation had visited the campus to talk about expanding the program to other UC campuses as well as the California State University system.

Birgeneau said he made the project a priority partly because of his personal experiences. “At 15 1/2 I was working in a factory,” he told Gonzales. “But my high school teacher said to me if I continued down that track I would end up being a very unhappy person… I’m obviously very sympathetic to people who find themselves in life situations like I did. I’m trying to play the same role for them that this high school teacher played for me when I was 15, 16 years old.”

Birgeneau got to know some of Berkeley’s undocumented students personally. One was a transfer student who was promised financial aid to attend Berkeley because of his excellent record at community college. But when the student applied, he discovered for the first time that he had entered the country illegally as a child and therefore was not eligible for financial aid. The student took a full-time job to support himself and pay tuition.

“Between the stresses of having a full-time job and being a transfer student, he actually had a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized,” said Birgeneau. Later friends raised money for the student to continue at Berkeley.

Birgeneau lobbied for the legislation that allows the state to give scholarships to undocumented students, and will allow Cal Grants for undocumented students starting in January. He will step down as chancellor at the end of the school year, and plans to continue lobbying for the federal Dream Act, which would allow undocumented students to obtain U.S. citizenship.

Here’s a video from the university:

And here’s the university’s press release:

Uriel Rivera overcame a maze of obstacles to be in the United States, not the least of which was living in the shadows of society as an undocumented immigrant. He excelled academically, volunteered in the community, had a vision of helping others and earned admission to the world’s greatest public university.

But his dreams were nearly dashed because his status barred him from applying for publicly funded scholarships, grants or loans.

Those dreams may get back on track soon, thanks in part to the announcement today (Tuesday, Dec. 11) that the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund has awarded $1 million to UC Berkeley for scholarships for undocumented students — a life changer for students like Rivera. This is the single-largest gift for scholarships of this type at a U.S. university.

The gift will assist the nearly 200 undocumented students at UC Berkeley from 20 different countries who currently qualify, and will help more in the future. These students are not eligible for federal Pell grants, federally backed loans or work-study positions. Their average family income is $24,000.

As public support for comprehensive immigration reform grows — and with it, an acknowledgement of the plight of students who came to the United States as children and are hampered by their immigration status as they pursue higher education and careers — UC Berkeley is leading the nation in assisting its students who are undocumented. Most of these students were brought to this country by their parents, were educated in California’s public schools and achieved academic success, despite barriers resulting from their legal status.

As a diligent high school student in Los Angeles, Rivera thrived in the classroom and juggled numerous family responsibilities, volunteered, worked in a convenience store owned by his family and did homework from 10 p.m. until midnight every night. At UC Berkeley, he embraced campus life, becoming active in student government, but was forced to drop out more than a year ago when he couldn’t keep up with the cost of tuition. Next semester, with money he earned working at the store and new state financial aid made possible by the passage of the California Dream Act, he’ll return to finish his studies. In the fall, funding from the new Haas, Jr. Fund scholarships will provide additional and much-needed resources for Rivera and others who don’t qualify for federal student aid.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” said Rivera. Of UC Berkeley’s new services and scholarships designed for students like him, he added, “You’re not just paying for a student to go to college, you are helping a whole community.”

In 2011, the state Legislature passed the two-part California Dream Act, ensuring that undocumented immigrants have the same access to state financial aid as all other low-income students. Undocumented students can now receive privately funded scholarships through UC Berkeley and eventually will receive Cal Grants and state-funded scholarships.

Shortly after the California Dream Act passed, UC Berkeley was one of the state’s first public universities to provide significant aid to undocumented students. This new gift from the Haas, Jr. Fund helps to fill the gap left by students’ inability to receive federal funds.

“Against great odds, our ‘Dreamers’ have persevered to be here at Berkeley — adding so much to this campus,” said Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau, who has made access to UC Berkeley by talented students from all walks of life a centerpiece of his eight-year tenure. “We are grateful for the courage of these ‘Dreamers’ and also for the courage of those who stepped forward to support them. Our challenge is to continue ensuring that all our students at Berkeley, regardless of background, have access to their dreams, and that we do not waste the potential of a single talented person.”

“At the Haas, Jr. Fund, we are committed to advancing rights and creating opportunities so that all people can live, work and raise their families with dignity,” said Haas, Jr. Fund President Ira S. Hirschfield. “These motivated, hardworking and inspiring students are an asset to our state and our country. We are proud to partner with UC Berkeley. Now that it’s legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential.”

The scholarships are part of a comprehensive plan at UC Berkeley to address the unique challenges undocumented students face. New services launching this semester also include support for those enrolled in a campus summer program to help high schoolers transition to UC Berkeley, funds for emergency needs, an online resource that centralizes information for the students and their families, legal services support, a textbook lending library and mental health resources.

An additional gift of $300,000 by Elise Haas will support services for undocumented students, including UC Berkeley’s new Robert D. Haas Dreamers Resource Center, named in honor of Elise Haas’s father.

“UC Berkeley’s comprehensive approach to supporting undocumented students is truly a model for colleges and universities around the country,” said Katharine Gin, co-founder and executive director of Educators for Fair Consideration, a San Francisco-based organization that supports undocumented students in their pursuit of college, career and citizenship.

“With essential scholarships and support services,” she said, “UC Berkeley’s undocumented students will be able to thrive academically, engage fully in the campus community, serve as inspiration for other undocumented students nationwide, and show our entire country what undocumented students are capable of achieving and contributing.”

The university also released profiles of two undocumented students, Marco Antonio Flores and Jessica G.

  • HeSaid1

    Private funding and scholarships have always been available to Illegal Alien students.

    • robthom

      And THATS the 1% that occupy oakland should have been protesting.

  • American

    Whynot give this to real legal students who are in need.?

  • Warren Buffett

    The TRUST FUND babies are once again giving away the money earned by their parents and grand parents

    • robthom

      Some times I do believe in the redistribution of wealth.
      So that silver spooned ideologues cant use it to make surviving here more difficult for the rest of us.

  • jane jane

    “Undocumented” mean they are here ILLEGALLY, even if that means they were brought by their parents. By supporting them we are sending the message that this behavior is ok, so why bother having a law we don’t enforce? State funded higher education is for the children of the taxpayers of the state. I am an immigrant who came here legally as a young child and graduated college here with student loans and now pay taxes as a citizen (earned). My parents brought us here for a chance at the American Dream which is quickly disappearing by taxing success and growing government out of control. America is no longer the country I immigrated to 35 years ago, and California is leading the way. I’m so sad.

    • Julia Paola Barajas

      FYI: Undocumented people DO pay taxes.

      • Cousin Bruce

        Everybody pays taxes. The act of of paying taxes does not confer any special status. How about this: undocumented people dance pretty good. they got rhythm. Or undocumented people cook up good food. Or undocumented people ride the bus. My point: so what?

  • robthom

    Thanks a lot Evelyn and Walter Haas, but what about all the children of the people who built this country where you “earned” an extra million.

    Although now that I think about it, maybe Evelyn and Walter Haas earned their extra millions undercutting murikan workers with cheap foreign labor.

    Then that would be giving back in a sick and mercenary way.

    • Calipenguin

      What’s ironic is that illegal aliens who graduate from UC Berkeley don’t necessarily qualify for Obama’s “dreamer” amnesty because they may not have stayed in the U.S. long enough, so the illegals will have to go home or vanish into the undocumented population and the Haas scholarship would have been wasted.

    • go figure

      Evelyn and Walter Haas have passed; their fund was founded years ago and now are run by their children. Walter Haas was the grandson of Levi Strauss. They believed in giving to immigrants and gays who didn’t get the same fair opportunities to succeed. But ILLEGAL alien students? I wonder if they would have approved.. I am going to spend all my hard earned money so that my children don’t “fund” or support things I don’t believe in!

  • robthom

    I certainly hope this helps more Asian kids get into cal berkeley.

  • Fed Up

    Unbelievable. This just makes me sick. The US Citizens take it in the shorts again! While we dig into our savings accounts, retirement funds and what is left of our home equity to help put our kids through college, the undocumented (ILLEGAL) kids get a free ride. What the heck, they already get free healthcare and food stamps. Might as well educate them for free too!

    • Calipenguin

      Obama also told ICE not to deport these illegal aliens and is handing out work permits to some of them so they can compete with U.S. citizens for jobs.

  • Calipenguin

    The Haas funding is private so it’s no different from scholarships that discriminate on the basis of race, gender, or other group membership. However, I wonder if there’s a way to game the award system? An Asian or Latino student can pretend to be an illegal immigrant and get access to money that is unavailable to U.S. citizens. Any foreign student on a student visa can take a year of studies, quit for a while to work, overstay his visa, become an “undocumented immigrant” and thus protected from deportation by Obama’s executive order, and then apply for the Haas scholarship which is not available to foreign students. These students could have very wealthy parents and yet still get the scholarships as “undocumented immigrants”.

  • Alvaro

    This Couple.is a Example of Real American what They Know for the Contribution from the Immigrants made to This Country.If Not ask your Great Grand Parents from where you came from.

    • get real

      This is not about immigrants. It’s about -illegal- immigrants. Americans are not against immigrants, we are a country made of them. Those immigrants built this country and fought for the freedoms that we Americans enjoy today. To become an American, you must apply, follow the law, and wait in line just like everyone else. If you are here illegally you don’t deserve any American benefits. Let’s call them what they truly are– ILLEGAL TRESPASSERS.

  • revolt

    65000 students graduate from our high schools, and who is paying for the education?
    I believe tax payers are, why do the people here who abide by the rules get punished and have to pay more? This is outrageous

  • revolt

    To add to it, Illegal persons dont “create jobs” they take a job from someone who respects the laws of the land.
    All come from imigrants originally in America, Imigration is fine and great, just respect the laws and do things in the right order. I know many people that have gone through the legal channels to become a citizen, they just had to work for it.

  • oh my

    “When people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the Republic”–Benjamin Franklin. Mr Franklin, we are getting out numbered by those that want things they didn’t work for from those that did…and so the end is near.

  • Cousin Bruce

    “Twice as many jobs are created in California by immigrants than by native born Californians.”?? This is the stupidest statement I ever heard.

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