A Privately Funded Dream Act, of Sorts

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March 6, 2012; Source: Wall Street Journal

Technology companies have previously backed raising the number of visas the government issues for skilled immigrants such as software engineers. Now, they have expanded their interest in immigration by helping to fund an organization which supports young people in their attempt to stay in the country as they complete high school.

It is unconstitutional, according to the Supreme Court, to deny a K-12 public education to undocumented children. After that, however, they cannot receive federal grants, work-study programs or bank loans to finance college.

A group of technology-related funders is helping to mitigate these problems faced by undocumented youth who are impacted by the failure of Congress to pass the Dream Act. “We think Congress’s inaction…is devastating for these students and tragic for the country,” said Ms. Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs.

These philanthropists are supporting Educators for Fair Consideration (or E4FC), a nonprofit that gives scholarships, career advice and legal services to students brought to the U.S. illegally as children. E4FC at first thought that it would be providing scholarships temporarily before the Dream Act passed, but it has been able to sustain its operations and expand over a longer period with the donations of the technology titans.

The group’s operating budget, however, remains relatively limited at $600,000.

“I have chosen to make this one of my philanthropic areas,” said Jeff Hawkins, inventor of the Palm Pilot. He described his giving as “still at an embryonic stage; I’m willing to crank it up as we find solutions.”

The latest version of the Dream Act was passed by the House in December 2010 but failed in the Senate after it was tacked onto a defense spending bill. In the meantime, some states have passed their own measures aimed at helping the 65,000 undocumented students that graduate each year. California, Illinois and New York recently passed laws that enable undocumented students to receive financial aid for college. Thirteen states also allow illegal immigrants to pay in-state fees at public universities. –Ruth McCambridge