‘Dreamer’ forced to turn down a dream scholarship

Despite being one week away from becoming a documented citizen, Leslie Martinez could not claim her full-ride STEM scholarship to Chapman. Photo courtesy of Leslie Martinez

Correction: Due to incorrect information from a source, an earlier version of this story identified Leslie Martinez as a recipient of the Simon Family Foundation STEM scholarship, which she was not a finalist for. This information has been corrected.

Leslie Martinez was a sophomore at Orange High School when she realized what it meant to not have a Social Security number. She was unfazed by her undocumented status until it got in the way of her becoming a surgeon.

“It didn’t really mean much until high school, when I realized how many opportunities I would have to miss,” Martinez said. “I realized I was going to have to work a lot harder than my peers to be successful and achieve what I wanted to.”

Martinez applied for a scholarship through the Simon STEM program during the 2014-15 school year, which could have granted her a full scholarship to Chapman if she had been selected as a finalist. But because of her undocumented status – at Chapman, students must be documented to receive this sort of scholarship – she had to forfeit the possibility of receiving the scholarship. She was one week away from getting her Social Security number.

The scholarship is a partnership between Orange High, the Simon Family Foundation and Chapman that offers Orange High School students who plan to major in a STEM degree program to receive a full scholarship to Chapman, or $16,000 to use at the university of their choice.

But students have to be U.S. citizens or permanent residents to receive the scholarship, Marcela Mejia-Martinez, the assistant vice president of admission at Chapman, wrote in an email to The Panther. Because of this, undocumented students are not eligible for this scholarship. Martinez was devastated.

“I did kind of give up on my academics for a while because I felt like there was no point if most opportunities were going to be closed to me, but I quickly realized that wasn’t going to help me in any way,” Martinez said.

Although undocumented students are typically eligible for merit scholarships, this scholarship uses government aid, said Dean of Students Jerry Price.

“It’s a combination of federal and state aid, and then the Simon Foundation and Chapman put our resources together to cover the difference,” Price said. “So it essentially becomes a tuition, room and board scholarship, but it’s not like (Chapman) pays the whole thing.”

Martinez received aid through the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) and is now a freshman at the University of California, Irvine.

DACA is an immigration policy created by former president Barack Obama in 2012 that allows nearly 800,000 undocumented people who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children to have the opportunity to work, study and obtain a driver’s license. The program required recipients to renew their status every two years and did not provide a path to citizenship.

The federal government announced in September that it would stop renewing work permits for DACA students starting March 5, according to The New York Times. But a federal injunction from a judge requires that recipients must retain their work permits and their protection from deportation while a lawsuit moves forward, according to The Washington Post.

Immigration status has no bearing on admission, Price said. Although Chapman doesn’t keep track of the number of students who are DACA recipients, there are several resources on campus available for undocumented students.

“We have a group of staff and faculty who are trying to get the word out,” Price said. “Sometimes we learn that, because work is hard to come by for undocumented students, we can help with short-term financial assistance.”

Students seeking help because of their undocumented status can seek assistance from a committee member from the Forum for Undocumented Students and can visit its resource page.

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