President Donald Trump's promise to crack down on undocumented immigrants has created an uncertain future for 34 students at Delaware State University.
President Donald Trump’s promise to crack down on undocumented immigrants has created an uncertain future for 34 students at Delaware State University.
Two of them are DSU freshmen Fernando Morales and Estephany Martinez. She was 8 years old when her family migrated illegally from Mexico to Atlanta in hopes of a better life.
“I'm just as American as you are,” said Martinez, 21. “I've been here my whole life. I deserve to be here. I mean, how am I harming you by getting an education?”
Martinez, who finished her first semester at DSU last fall with six A's and one B, and Morales are among the recipients of the Opportunity Scholarship from TheDream.US.
The scholarship is awarded to undocumented students and covers their tuition with up to $80,000 over four years. All of the program's funding is from private donors.
DSU president Harry Williams partnered with TheDream.US because he noticed an overlap between the program's mission and Del State, a historically black university.
“We were created in 1891 by the General Assembly, because African Americans didn't have the right to attend a historically white institution, so they created Delaware State,” Williams said.
“I felt it was appropriate [to support the Dreamers] based on the mission of our institution and the history of our institution as it relates to access and providing opportunities for those that may have been locked out a system,” Williams said.
'We're all criminals'
The 34 Dreamers are temporarily protected from deportation by DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
It's been a month since President Trump took office, and the big question is whether he'll undo DACA. More than 700,000 undocumented immigrants have benefited from it.
Morales said he wants Trump to understand all unauthorized immigrants aren't bad hombres.
“The stereotypes that he hears are not true, such as we're all criminals,” said Morales, 19, who graduated valedictorian from his Arkansas high school.
“How people say that this country was built on immigration, I feel like that's true, because a lot of small businesses started by immigration. As those became bigger, the cities and everything started to grow. I feel like we can really contribute to this country.”
Martinez agrees. The diehard, yet disappointed, Atlanta Falcons fan is majoring in criminal justice to become a cop.
“Hopefully I'll get to be a police chief one day and hopefully work for the CIA,” she said. “I think helping people is what really drives me.”
The Atlanta native, however, understands her dream of working in law enforcement is unlikely, because she's not a U.S. citizen.
But it won't stop her from trying.
“I really don't care. I'm working toward it. That's what I really want,” Martinez said. “I'm not going to change.”
Fight for education
Having that won't-quit attitude has been crucial in Morales’ and Martinez's journey into higher education.
From grade school to high school they were both at a disadvantage since their parents weren't fluent in English. This prevented their parents from being able to help them with homework.
The Dreamers said they had to get tutoring and work twice as hard as the average U.S. citizen to earn the grades they wanted.
Despite that hurdle, Martinez and Morales still managed to graduate high school with honors.
The uncertainty of how they were going to afford college, however, haunted them during their senior years.
“I knew I could either work [at a day job] or try to find many scholarships,” said Morales, a movement-science major whose dream is to work as a trainer for the New York Giants. “I applied for a lot. But I didn't get very many until I found [TheDream.US].”
It's not easy for undocumented students to find a way to pay for college, because they're ineligible to receive federal financial aid. Additionally, 16 states lock undocumented students out of higher education by either charging them out-of-state tuition or barring them from attending state colleges.
These locked-out states include Georgia and Arkansas, where Martinez and Morales are from.
'It's been bittersweet'
DSU partnered with TheDream.US last spring, making it possible for 34 Dreamers to attend the university on a full scholarship.
Coming to Delaware has been a blessing and burden for Martinez.
“It's been bittersweet,” she said. “I love my state. My people are there. My education has been great there. But then it's like bitter that they've locked me out.
“They've given me all of this [drama]. But then I have Delaware State and they're so welcoming and it's the complete opposite.”
Martinez discovered TheDream.US on Facebook.
“It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said. “It's probably the most important thing that's happened in my life.”
Dreamers are bright
The average GPA of DSU's 34 Dreamers from last semester was 3.77, said DSU president Williams.
“Six of the students had perfect 4.0s,” he said. “The lowest grade point average was a 3.34. These are talented students who are working hard in the classroom.”
DSU and Eastern Connecticut State University are the first schools that partnered with TheDream.US for the Opportunity Scholarship last spring.
TheDream.US was co-founded by Don Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post.
Graham said he got behind the program because, “we feel everybody should have a chance to go to college.”
His goal for the Opportunity Scholarship is to graduate 500 students. Currently, Graham said, there are close to 100 combined Dreamers enrolled at DSU and ECSU.
Williams said Dreamers aren't taking seats away from Delaware's in-state students. The university has around 4,600 students with the capacity to support up to 50 graduates in its first wave of Dreamers.
The goal, Williams said, is for the university to support up to 100 Dreamers.
Trump talks DACA
Then again, those plans depend on if Trump decides to keep the DACA amnesty for undocumented immigrants.
Williams said he's feeling optimistic.
“I was a little bit nervous when [Trump] rolled out his executive order around immigration; and we were concerned that he was going to include DACA in that, and he did not,” the DSU president said.
In January, Trump did an interview addressing Dreamers and DACA.
“They shouldn't be very worried," Trump told ABC News. "I do have a big heart. We're going to take care of everybody. ... Where you have great people that are here that have done a good job, they should be far less worried."
But Trump's promise sent a mixed message Feb. 8, when news broke that an undocumented mom in Arizona – whose children are U.S. citizens – was arrested. On Feb. 9, Garcia de Rayos was deported to Mexico.
Since 2008, de Rayos had done eight immigration check-ins, stemming from her arrest and conviction that same year for using a fake Social Security number.
After each meeting, she was released and went back to her family.
Now many people are crying foul over de Rayos' deportation, including Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. The mayor said the married mother of two lived in the U.S. for more than two decades and “poses a threat to nobody,” according to CNN.com.
With more than 700,000 undocumented immigrants benefiting from DACA, DSU Dreamer Morales doesn't think Trump will be able to stop them all if he repeals it.
“If he wants to take it away, he can,” Morales said. “But he knows that we're here. We're still going to keep doing the same thing.”