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With heart and money, Silicon Valley aids undocumented students

Patrick Thibodeau | March 13, 2012
Some big names in Silicon Valley's tech community are helping a group of talented, young students who are victims of circumstance and politics.

There have been efforts in Congress to create a pathway to permanent residency for these students, namely through the DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act.

The legislation would provide permanent residency for people who entered the U.S. as minors and who have lived in the U.S. for at least five years. It also includes requirements to either serve in the military or attend college, but this legislation has failed to muster enough votes for passage.

It's unclear just how many students may be eligible for help under the DREAM Act. A Congressional Research Service report prepared for members of Congress cited a nearly 10-year-old study that about 65,000 undocumented immigrants who have lived in the U.S. for five years graduate from high school each year.

There may be more than 2 million eligible people in total, according to some estimates.

Gin said the tech's community's interest in the scholarship program "has been a pleasant surprise. The tech industry in Silicon Valley realizes that immigrants are very important."

Hawkins said their efforts are "mostly about the human aspects of the problem." Many of the students that are being helped are in so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) programs, but many others are not, he said.

Perhaps the reason the tech industry people wants to help these young adults is "we value intellect, we value initiative, and we value hard work," said Hawkins. "We see in these kids the attributes that are valued in the entrepreneurial world."

Hawkins said that "we also understand that our success is largely because we had the freedom to work, the freedom to travel, the freedom to pursue whatever dream we had. Undocumented students are like us but without any of those freedoms."

Mario Lio is one student getting help through the scholarship fund. He is 23 and came to the U.S. when he was 12 to stay with his uncle, while his father worked to get permanent residency.

While his father pursued his immigration, Lio focused on his academic work, believing that ultimately the paperwork issues would be resolved.

Lio ranked seventh in his middle school, was the top student in the English as a Second Language Program, and later was valedictorian of his high school. He graduated with a civil engineering degree in May, 2010 from the University of California, Berkeley, according to E4FC.

While Lio was in college, his father's case was dropped by immigration authorities. His father's case was complex because he had lived in China and Peru and was unable to get all the needed paperwork.

Lio is attending graduate school thanks to the help of E4FC, but is uncertain what the future will hold for him because of his status.


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