New Cellphone App Helps Illegals Find and Win U.S. College Scholarships

A pro-immigration activist holds a DACA and DAPA sign in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on April 18, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

A new app inspired by an illegal immigrant who couldn’t afford college tuition in the United States is intended to help other illegals find and win at least 10,000 college scholarships per year.

Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca – who was brought to California illegally from Mexico by her parents when she was four years old – has developed a “scholarship network” in the form of an app called the DREAMer’s Roadmap.

“It is going to be the roadmap to the road of the journey that we lead every day of uncertainty,” said Salamanca, who is now 26 and lives in East Palo Alto. “This would be their guide to college. It will give them hope.”

The project is being backed by  Undocumented Student Program at the taxpayer supported University of California at Berkeley.

While Salamanca qualified for in-state tuition in 2008 under AB540 in California, she was not permitted to work to help pay for college tuition. Four years later, President Barack Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy that offers illegal immigrants a renewable work permit.

DREAMer’s Roadmap gathers scholarships provided by various organizations and will launch this month for iOS and Android, KQUED reports. At its launch, users will be able to access the 500 scholarships on the app’s database, and share information via text, email, or social media.

Salamanca said DREAMer’s Roadmap will be free to use. “We didn’t want to risk charging for the app and depriving people from obtaining a tool that can potentially help them get money and go to college,” she said.

Salamanca’s start-up plans for the app were launched with $100,000 she won from the 2015 Voto Latino Innovators Challenge, which were awarded to five Latinos in the United States with the best ideas in science, technology, engineering and math.

Salamanca – who now has her green card and plans to attend a four-year college this year – began to work full time for DREAMer’s Roadmap after obtaining her associate’s degree from Cañada College in Redwood City and winning the competition. She used the initial $100,000 to develop the Android version and then received an additional $25,000 from an anonymous donor to design the iOS version.

“The toughest part has been finding additional funding,” Salamanca said. “A lot of foundations have trouble seeing the impact that we’re going to have in the community.”

Salamanca was named one of Forbes 30 Under 30: Education in 2016; a Champions of Change recipient by the Obama administration in 2014; and also was a participant in the DREAMer Hackathon hosted by Mark Zuckerberg in 2013.

Salamanca and her colleagues have begun promoting the new app through partnerships with schools that cater to illegal immigrants. “It’s much more in tune with what teenagers are doing right now, and that’s doing everything on their phone, including writing essays,” said Jane Slater, the adviser for the Sequoia High School Dream Club.

Alicia Carmen Aguirre, who is on the board of directors of DREAMer’s Roadmap and a professor at Cañada College, said illegal immigrants are hesitant to speak up to get help for college tuition.

“If students get to this app and find opportunities to go to college, it will make a difference in their lives and it will open up opportunities,” she said.

According to the app’s website:

For years undocumented students have struggled more than permanent residents or citizen students in everyday situations. But when senior year in high school comes around it becomes one of the hardest year for an undocumented student. This is the year when most students find out that they don’t qualify for FAFSA and the majority of scholarships. First because they don’t have a social security number and second because they are not “legal” permanent residents or citizens of the United States. Many students by this point are discouraged and don’t believe that going to college is a possibility. That is why we are very proud to provide the DREAMer’s Roadmap App for students across the country. Our tool will equip DREAMers to realize their path to college.

Once launched, app users will be invited to simply explore the database or create an account. Salamanca says she wanted to give illegal students that option in case some didn’t feel comfortable giving their personal information.

In addition, DREAMer’s Roadmap allows users to filter the database according to whether or not they have qualified for DACA. Partners of DREAMer’s Roadmap are: University of California Berkeley Undocumented Student Program; Dream Club DC; Latinos and Tech Initiative; and Undocumedia.