‘A Bit of Hope’: Local scholarship for DACA recipients helped support 30 undocumented students | News, Sports, Jobs

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Lawrence DACA Scholars Program Scholarship 2022-2023 Lizbeth Villanueva

Many anti-immigrant policies have come out of the last presidential administration, but in Lawrence what those years have spurred on is a program that has now helped 30 undocumented area students attend college.

The Lawrence DACA Scholars program began making and selling tamales in 2017 to fund scholarships for area beneficiaries of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. DACA allowed undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children within a certain timeframe to stay in the country, obtain work permits and driver’s licenses, and receive education in their home state.

Among them is Lawrence resident and DACA Scholars program recipient Lizbeth Villanueva, who said she was around 13 when the DACA program started, prompting her mother to ask about her career goals. education and whether she wanted to apply for DACA.

“Somehow I already knew at that age that I wanted to go to college, and I said that with a lot of confidence,” Villanueva said.

However, this goal meant facing additional obstacles, both financial and otherwise. Although DACA allows recipients to avoid paying out-of-state tuition, recipients remain ineligible for state and federal financial aid, including Federal Pell Grants for Students at low-income and other aid provided through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

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Although the Lawrence DACA Scholars program is intended to help students financially, it also hopes to communicate something more.

The origin of the scholarship program dates back to the 2016 presidential campaign. Donald Trump announced his candidacy with a speech that included statements about immigrants from Mexico as murderers and rapists, foreshadowing a campaign and a presidency that relied strongly on anti-immigrant policies, which included attempts to end DACA, the extension of the wall along the US border. with Mexico and the forced separation of immigrant children from their parents.

Chuck Olcese, who is involved in the program, said a group called Lawrence Interfaith Refugee and Immigrant Ministry (LIRIM) started in November 2016 as a reaction to the presidential campaign, eventually giving birth to the scholarship committee. He said the group began with a meeting of about 60 people of various faiths in Lawrence who were concerned about anti-immigration rhetoric. After hosting a panel of local young DACA recipients in 2017, LIRIM partnered with Centro Hispano to create a committee for the scholarship program to support DACA students.

“We were overwhelmed by their desire to really want to succeed and to see DACA as the only hope they had of being able to continue their education and achieve some recognition, in terms of the possibility of obtaining a number of social security, a driver’s license and things like that,” Olcese said.

Olcese said that while he realizes the scholarship can’t do much to help students financially, the program hopes to impress upon them that there are people who support them and want them to succeed.

“Give some hope, I think,” Olcese said. “Provide students with something that says there’s a group here that really cares about what you’re trying to do and wants to encourage you to keep doing it.

The program also recognizes that DACA recipients, because they are not eligible for government scholarships due to their undocumented status, face unique financial burdens when seeking to attend college.

“The creation of the scholarship grew out of a recognition that undocumented students, despite being allowed to attend Kansas universities, are essentially excluded from many, if not most, scholarship programs, especially from any kind of government — state or federal — helps,” Olcese said.

Both issues surfaced in Villanueva’s experience.

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Villanueva said she knew of DACA recipients who were so affected by the anti-immigration rhetoric that proliferated under the Trump administration that they dropped out of school, and she was almost one of them.

Villanueva was brought from Mexico to Kansas when she was 3 years old, settling with her family in Overland Park. She graduated from high school in 2016, amid the same rhetoric that prompted the creation of the scholarship program. She said the things she heard and saw at the time affected her, and she began to doubt whether she wanted to go to school, not only because of the cost, but because she felt that the place she called home didn’t necessarily want her here. .

“I feel like it made more people feel okay showing their racism towards immigrants, and that was really difficult,” Villanueva said. “It’s always been a topic of discussion at school, at my job, online.”

She said she went through very difficult times, but ended up enrolling at Johnson County Community College and earning an associate’s degree over a four-year period. She completed her freshman year at the University of Kansas last year and is majoring in film with a minor in psychology. After graduating, she would like to pursue a graduate program in film or possibly go straight into filmmaking, including films to raise awareness of mental health issues.

Villanueva said even getting to KU was a big step forward.

“I am the first in my family to attend a four-year university, which is very important to my parents and something I am very proud to accomplish,” Villanueva said. “Not just for me but also for them.”

The work permit Villanueva receives through DACA allows her to get a job to help pay for her expenses, but at the start of her senior year at KU, she only planned to take four courses, the minimum for full-time status. , because of the cost. She said she received a scholarship for the coming year, although the Lawrence DACA Scholars program helped change that, allowing her to enroll in an additional class, Women in Politics.

“It’s to fulfill a (course requirement) at KU, but I’m very excited to take it because I think it will be very educational and I hope to get the most out of it,” Villanueva said. “So that has helped me, more than anything, to ease the financial burden that I think a lot of us DACA students carry with us.”

But still, Villanueva and other DACA recipients face uncertainties. Some state courts have challenged the DACA program, and some believe it could potentially end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Villanueva said while she is grateful for the program, it has its limitations. She noted that under DACA, she must renew her application every two years and is not permitted to leave the country. DACA was created by executive order during the administration of President Barack Obama and was meant to be an interim measure. What she would really like to see is permanent legislation that creates a pathway to citizenship for DACA recipients. She has no memories of Mexico, and she can’t imagine having to go back.

“If I ever had to go back or if DACA ended, I would have no idea how to fit into this community,” she said. “I think it would be really difficult, because I’ve grown up here in America since I was very young, and it’s the only home I know.”

The scholarship program has expanded over the years and hopes to help more students like Villanueva achieve their educational goals. Olcese said that for the first few years, the committee made tamales to help fund the scholarships, which were initially $500 per semester. The COVID-19 pandemic finally put an end to that tradition, but the group continues to hold fundraising events — like its recent Margaritas for Margarita event — and accept donations.

The program now offers students $1,000 per semester and has offered scholarships to about 30 students since its launch in 2017. Olcese said the scholarship program still needs to raise $1,000 to meet this year’s goal of funding five students at $2,000 a year, including Villanueva.

The Trinity Episcopal Church houses the scholarship fund and people can donate directly to the fund on trinitylawrence.org by clicking on the Donate button and then on the DACA icon. The program is currently open to residents of Douglas County and surrounding counties, and those interested in applying can email [email protected]

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