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Scholarships for undocumented?

Updated: January 28, 2013 9:49AM

For the poverty-stricken, going to college is a hardship that can be overcome with state and federal financial aid.

That’s not true for those who are poor and undocumented. Regulations ban them from receiving such aid because of their immigration status.

There is no regard for the fact that most of these teens and young adults came to the U.S. as children, without a say in the matter.

We have adopted such a hard line on immigration that our policies have lost a sense of humanity.

But undocumented kids should not give up hope. There are Chicagoans in their corner, willing to help with dollars or guidance.

The Anhelo Project, established by students at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the Illinois Dream Commission, appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn in 2011, raise funds through private donations and award scholarships to undocumented students. Both are currently accepting scholarship applications.

In 2009, undocumented as well as documented UIC students launched The Anhelo Project. “It’s for those who believe everyone has a right to be educated,” said Joselin Cisneros, a founding member of the group.

Anhelo is Spanish for longing or eagerness.

The organization holds an April Dream gala to fund-raise and has collected more than $70,000, adviser Joanna Maravilla told me.

Funds could have been placed in UIC’s endowment, but students worried money wouldn’t make it to the undocumented and they established a separate account, said Hugo Teruel, director of UIC’s Latin American Recruitment and Educational Services Program.

In the end, it was a good move because UIC has tightened rules on distribution of scholarship money, Teruel added.

“Scholarships that once were available [to undocumented students] are not anymore,” he said.

After its first year, the growing organization expanded its candidate pool from UIC students to those attending Chicago colleges. Each award is worth $3,000, a fraction of what college costs, but it can be combined with other scholarships. Maravilla says it’s worth applying because the group can assist applicants in finding other resources.

The Illinois Dream Commission, with the weight of the governor behind it, has raised $1.3 million for its scholarship fund, chairwoman Tanya Cabrera said.

That organization intends to give $2,000 awards to eligible Illinois students at community colleges and $6,000 to those at four-year schools anywhere in the U.S., according to Cabrera.

The goal is to make the scholarships renewable and the commission needs to raise $10 million for that to happen, Cabrera said. She spoke confidently about getting or exceeding that amount.

“The generosity of the donors has been overwhelmingly pleasing,” Cabrera told me, adding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel has chipped in.

“You get choked up about it. One private donor gave $100,000. I’m glad people see we are trying to do the right thing.”

Not everyone sees it as the “right thing.” Such programs have detractors, and I have emails to prove it.

Supporters are the true champions here. They see a need for a more level playing field. They understand the students deserve a chance.

There is pleasure “in being able to open a door and pull a student through,” Cabrera said.

It is right to do it.

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