Nation’s largest scholarship gift for undocumented students is announced

Life has just changed for “Dreamer” Uriel Rivera, who worked really hard and excelled in high school despite many sacrifices as the son of an undocumented family of limited means.  He was accepted and became a student at the prestigious University of California at Berkeley. Rivera could not keep up with the tuition, since he did not qualify for federal grants, loans or work-study programs due to his “Dreamer” status.  Rivera had to drop out.

Today, the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a philanthropic family organization, announced it was giving UC Berkeley one million dollars in scholarship money for Rivera and almost 200 other undocumented students at the university, making this the nation’s largest scholarship gift for Dreamers.   The undocumented students who will receive the funds come from 20 different countries, including Bolivia, Mexico, Korea, Poland and Japan. Their average family income is $24,000.  About sixty percent of the UC Berkeley Dreamer students are Latino.

Next semester, this scholarship gift, as well as money Rivera earned working at a store, will allow the young Latino Dreamer to return to the university.

“I’m so grateful for this opportunity,” said Rivera,  in a statement released by Berkeley.  “You’re just not paying for a student to go to college, you are helping a whole community,” Rivera said.

Dreamer Uriel Rivera will be able to stay at UC Berkeley thanks to scholarship gift for undocumented students. Photo: courtesy of Keegan Houser/UC Berkeley

Dreamer Uriel Rivera will be able to stay at UC Berkeley thanks to scholarship gift for undocumented students. Photo: courtesy of Keegan Houser/UC Berkeley

Last year, California’s legislature passed a two-part Dream Act.  The legislation first allowed undocumented students to receive privately funded scholarships such as the one given out by the Haas, Jr. Fund.

“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 reach their potential,” stated Haas, Jr. Fund President Ira Hirschfeld.

The California Dream Act legislation eventually makes the state’s Dreamers eligible to receive Cal grants and publicly funded scholarships.

UC Berkeley has been called a model for how higher-education institutions can support Dreamers.   The university will be launching a summer program to help incoming freshmen Dreamers transition into the campus, and will have funds for emergency needs, as well as legal and family support services.  “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.”

The Haas family, which has provided the million-dollar scholarship, are descendants of one of the country’s most successful immigrants,  Levi Strauss, who came from Bavaria and opened a San Francisco store that eventually became Levi Strauss & Co, the iconic jeans brand.  In the website, the philanthropic organization says the Fund “takes on complex and pressing problems, such as promoting equal rights and opportunities for immigrants.”

Speaking about the Dreamers at UC Berkeley who will benefit from the million-dollar scholarships, the Fund’s president Ira Hirschfeld said, “These motivated, hardworking and inspiring students are an asset to our state and our country.”

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