New App Helps Undocumented Immigrants Find College Scholarships

Sarahi Espinoza created a scholarship network in the form of an app to help undocumented students find college scholarships.

Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca created a scholarship network in the form of an app to help undocumented students find college scholarships. (Courtesy of Sarahi Espinoza)

As a senior at North Hollywood High, Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca did not know if she could afford college. She was an undocumented student with limited options to make money. So she turned to her counselor and teachers for help — but they did not know where to refer her for scholarships.

As a result, Salamanca, who moved to the United States in 1994 from Mexico at the age of 4, started digging on her own all over the Internet. At that time in California, in 2008, Salamanca qualified for funds under AB540, which allows certain undocumented students in-state tuition. However, they could not work to help pay for college since Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy that provides qualified undocumented immigrants with a renewable work permit, did not yet exist. DACA started in 2012, and its expansion is currently under review.

Salamanca’s struggle to find money for college inspired her to create a scholarship network that undocumented students can tap into just by reaching into their pockets. The network comes in the form of an app called the DREAMer’s Roadmap, and it will launch this month for iOS and Android.

The app collects scholarships from different organizations. After the app launches, users will be able to find and share scholarship information via text, email or social media. DREAMer’s Roadmap currently has 500 scholarships on its database.

“It is going to be the roadmap to the road of the journey that we lead every day of uncertainty,” said Salamanca, who is now 26 and lives in East Palo Alto. “This would be their guide to college. It will give them hope.”

The home screen of the app gives users the option to explore the database or create an account to keep track of scholarships on the platform. Salamanca said she wanted to let users search for scholarships without having to create an account in case some undocumented students didn’t feel comfortable giving their information.

To make the search easier, users of DREAMer’s Roadmap can filter the database. For example, they can select settings that reflect whether they have DACA or not to narrow down the scholarships for which they qualify. When they find a scholarship they like, users can share, comment or save the listing. If users know of a scholarship that is not listed, they can submit it, and DREAMer’s Roadmap will verify that it is legitimate before it goes live on the app.

Salamanca plans to keep the DREAMer’s Roadmap free. “We didn’t want to risk charging for the app and depriving people from obtaining a tool that can potentially help them get money and go to college,” she said.

She jump-started the app with $100,000 she won from the 2015 Voto Latino Innovators Challenge. For the national challenge, Voto Latino gives awards to five people with the best ideas in science, technology, engineering and math aimed at Latinos in the United States. Other innovations included an online course for Latino business owners and an app that connects students with Latino mentors in the health field.

Salamanca started working full time for DREAMer’s Roadmap after obtaining her associate’s degree from Cañada College in Redwood City and winning the competition. The $100,000 helped her with the bare minimum to start the project. From the award, she used $50,000 to develop the Android version of the app, and the other half was spent on her salary, marketing and building the website. She was able to develop the iOS version with a $25,000 donation from an anonymous donor.

“The toughest part has been finding additional funding,” Salamanca said. “A lot of foundations have trouble seeing the impact that we’re going to have in the community.”

Additional funding is needed to keep the app updated, to fix bugs and to adapt to the number of users. When asking for donations, Salamanca said it is hard to pitch DREAMer’s Roadmap as a startup that is also a nonprofit organization because most apps are for-profit. “Foundations are like, ‘Well we can’t fund startups,’ ” she said. “Yeah, but we’re a nonprofit startup.”

To promote DREAMer’s Roadmap, Salamanca and her team have started developing partnerships with schools. Her current partners are the Sequoia High School Dreamer’s Club in Redwood City and UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program.

Jane Slater, the adviser for the Sequoia High School Dream Club, said that the app will serve as an organizational tool for students. “It’s much more in tune with what teenagers are doing right now, and that’s doing everything on their phone, including writing essays.”

 Alicia Carmen Aguirre, former mayor of Redwood City, is on the board of directors of DREAMer’s Roadmap. As a professor at Cañada College, Aguirre said she finds that undocumented students are often scared to speak up about their status and ask for help navigating college.

“If students get to this app and find opportunities to go to college, it will make a difference in their lives and it will open up opportunities,” she said.

Salamanca now has her green card and plans to attend a four-year university this year. As an advocate for undocumented students’ rights, she was one of Forbes 30 Under 30: Education in 2016, was named a Champions of Change recipient by President Obama’s administration in 2014 and participated in the DREAMer Hackathon hosted by Mark Zuckerberg in 2013.

Recently, she received an email from a woman asking her if she could go to a four-year university, even though she was not able to afford it.

“I love receiving those emails because it is the reason why I’m doing this,” Salamanca said.

  • Kurt thialfad

    The problem with giving unauthorized foreigners hope to get a US university

    • Reyna Encinas

      Yet, the app is aimed for dreamers which mean they have or can get DACA, it authorizes them to work legally in the United States. So they can continue education after high school by going to a university and being able to work in their career choice along side citizens.

      • bigriggs

        Dreamers is just another pc word for illegal immigrant.

        • AllenaTapia

          I’d take 20 Dreamers over one bigot anyday.

          • bigriggs

            I’m sure you would. You’re a bigot as well.

          • Clyde_Frog

            Not wanting illegal immigrants here makes no one a bigot Einstein.

          • LoyalCatholic

            I’ll take them too so long as they are headed off to jail if they are violating our immigration laws !

        • Jazmin Garcia

          Dreamer is actually a term when referring to an undocumented YOUTH and actually connects to the DREAM Act and not the entirety of all undocumented immigrants

          • bigriggs

            It’s a term used for illegal immigrants. There’s no such thing as “undocumented immigrants”.

          • Jazmin Garcia

            It is absurd to say that there is no such thing as an undocumented immigrant. And it can be argued that there is no term as an illegal immigrant because it is just a dehumanizing slur that certain people use to deify themselves and demonize others.

          • Clyde_Frog

            No this is a sovereign nation with immigration laws. If you come here illegally by not following those laws you are an illegal immigrant.

      • Kurt thialfad

        But DACA expires after 3 years. If you are not a citizen, you need a visa to work. Sorry, Reyna.

        • Reyna Encinas

          Dreamers have to reapply before it expires to keep being eligible to work while they save up to apply for citizenship.

    • Jazmin Garcia

      People face many challenges when choosing to immigrate and one of those challenges is that it is difficult to move here legally. People want to move here legally but when they try attain the access they are denied that ability. It is a long process that certain people are granted quickly and easily but others are discriminated against and are not allowed to immigrate to the US legally; they try to immigrate to build better lives and contribute to society in a positive way but are denied that ability solely based on the beliefs that the broken system has created. There are many restrictions that limit people from gaining legal status which then irrevocably causes these terrible problems and challenges for people when trying to pursue a higher level of education. And actually, there is a way that allows undocumented youth who attend US universities to work legally. It’s and American policy called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which allows undocumented youth to hold a work permit to work legally in the US; this gives undocumented youth the opportunity to use their graduate degree professionally which can only contribute in continuing positive growth in society.

      • bigriggs

        Roughly 1 million legal citizens/residents are welcomed by this country every single year. Not exactly hard to immigrate here properly.

        • Jazmin Garcia

          In comparison to the number who try to immigrate here legally, 1 million is rather small. It also has to be taken into account which parts of the world the majority of those 1 million people come from. Often times than not they are affluent people who therefore have an advantage gaining citizenship because of their wealth or because they are not discriminated against because of their race/ethnicity.

      • Clyde_Frog

        So because it’s “difficult” to move here legally makes it OK to break the law and move here illegally? No it doesn’t.

    • AllenaTapia

      DACA and DAPA give work permits. But even those not eligible for either often work contractually or virtually or as “fellows” via fellowships. There are many, many ways to work after you finish your education.

    • Karla

      Do you really think people just move here illegally for fun? “It’s best to move legally to the US.” Really? I’m sure the 11 million undocumented people had no such idea. Someone should tell them, all of this could have been easily avoided!! (The US immigration system is very broken, no one wakes up one morning & wants to be an “illegal alien”).

      • Kurt thialfad

        They believe the grass is greener – but it’s not. They believe they are special and either wouldn’t get caught, or will marry one of a number of Americans, or will be able to forge a SSN, or will be able to drive without a license and never have an accident, or they will get numerous job offers for what in their mind is big money when in reality it is a pittance. They only get exploited by unscrupulous bosses and politicians. They believe the streets are paved with gold, but they’re not.

      • Clyde_Frog

        And that makes it perfectly OK to break the law and come here illegally? No it does not. Come here legally or not at all. And no illegal should be receiving anything except a ticket back to their own country.

  • Tony Acarasiddhi Press

    It’s good to see this. There are some remarkable stories out there and, clearly, Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca is one of them.

  • bigriggs

    Illegal immigrants should not be eligible for scholarships or in state tuition.

    • H Janson

      illegals should be eligible for deportation and nothing else

    • Jazmin Garcia

      Well actually… many parts of the land which you live on belonged to so many other people long before Europeans and others migrated here, invaded the land, and committed genocide. So technically who’s the illegal immigrant, the people whose ancestors first lived on the land? Or the people who committed mass murder to colonize and steal land and then proclaim that it is their god given right because of manifest destiny?

      • bigriggs

        Ahhhh, how cute, you think illegals only come from south of the border. I’ll help your ignorance out. They come from all over the world. Invaded? Nope. Genocide? Funny story: rival Indian tribes killed, invaded and terrorized other Indian tribes much more often than early settlers did. An education on this subject is a wonderful thing. By the way, you cite Europeans, guess that means Spaniards (who we all know settled present day Mexico and a vast part of Central America are included in your false talking point) need to go. Tell us what laws existed when the settlers of this country arrived (remember those darn Spaniards)? You’re an open book of misinformation, false rhetoric and lies. Stay at the kids table next time.

      • Clyde_Frog

        This wasn’t a sovereign nation with laws at that time your argument is asinine.

  • Anti-Citizen

    Hate the country but the money is good I guess. They should try this in China, no white supremacist patriarchy there.

  • H Janson

    Hey look at that, an illegal who mooched off of our system to create a program to enable illegals to mooch off of our system. Deport and ban them all. out out out

    • crzymx

      Aww look, someone with no education is mad about someone darker being their boss. Go cry about your “heritage” in Charleston, Cletus.

    • Jazmin Garcia

      Check your privilege. First off, no human being is illegal because everyone has a right to live on this planet. And secondly, undocumented immigrants are unable to mooch of “your” system because of the documents that they do not possess. So how can someone who cannot even qualify to apply to receive government aid be mooching off the system. Think about how fruits, vegetables, etc. get from the land to your dining room table. A lot of the time it is because of VERY underpaid and exploited undocumented immigrants so without these people that you want “out out out” the US economy would crumble.

      • bigriggs

        Their actions make them illegal immigrants, stop being such a PC loving non thinker. Ever heard of fraud? Fake ID’s? Fake SSN cards? Of course you haven’t. Pew Hispanic Research Center estimates less than 10% of illegals work in agriculture. Think for yourself instead of being told what to say.

      • H Janson

        hahah, what.. “check my priviledge”? hahaha, no. illegals are useless scum. try talking to me like that on the street, i’ll put a bullet in your skull.

  • betty

    They shouldn’t be entitled to anything what about our citizens our legal citizens

  • AllenaTapia

    Salamanca should look into the Echoing Green fellowship for funding, seems like a PERFECT fit: http://www.echoinggreen.org/

  • Rosemary Valderas

    Well that is all the illegals do in this country see where they can get free money while the us citizens that work hard have to pay for their student loans for years. and those companies should been helping the us born or legal people.

  • Janice Dexter

    Was going to say the same thing Rosemary. Take out student loans have to pay back for years and if you don’t pay they take your income taxes if you get any back

  • Rosemary Valderas

    How come she did not try this in Mexico,because she can’t, she can not study in Mexico because it is very difficult to be accepted at a State University, and they cannot afford a private one. But the US opens all of those benefits to all the illegals.

  • Lisa

    While I am impressed with this girls desire to help I am infuriated by the thought process that illegals have a right to complain,voice their opinions,protest etc!! No. You come legal however long it takes and I will gladly welcome them! I realize its difficult but a law is a law and if you’re willing to break it and live off the taxpayers you need to leave. I believe in helping but I will not tolerate sass from a comunity of people who disregards the laws of this land. I cant move to Germany and protest because I want them to change their laws for me what the hell?!

    • Johnny Vela

      You need to do some research before commenting long paragraphs full of oblivious statements.

      • Clyde_Frog

        If you’re oblivious to the point she was making you’re part of the problem. Come here legally. Period.

  • Love this initiative! Very in line with my Support Creativity scholarship: http://wesupportcreativity.org

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