How One Latina’s App Is Helping Undocumented Students Find Ways To Pay For College
For high school seniors, applying to college can be a stressful process with applications and countless fees. But what can be even more stressful is being told you can’t go to college because of money. This is the harsh reality for thousands of undocumented immigrants every year that find out they don’t qualify for FAFSA or any government scholarships due to their legal status in the United States. Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca, knows first hand how this felt back in 2008 when she found out she didn’t qualify for FAFSA because she was undocumented.
“When I was in high school I found out that because I was undocumented I was not going to be able to qualify for FAFSA like all my other friends,” Salamanca, then 18, told Forbes. “I asked my counselor for guidance on other options to finance my college education and she said that people like me didn’t go to college.”
Espinoza Salamanca knew she had to find a solution to to an issue that affects millions in the U.S.
Salamanca, who came to the U.S. in 1994 from Mexico at the age of 4, had little to no resources to help pay for college.. At that time in California, in 2008, she qualified for some money under AB540, which allows certain undocumented students in-state tuition. However, it didn’t work to help pay for college since Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an immigration policy that provides qualified undocumented immigrants with a renewable work permit, didn’t exist until 2012.
Due to these circumstances, Salamanca didn’t go to college directly after high school because she didn’t think she could afford it. Instead, she worked jobs like cleaning houses and taking care of children.
Salamanca wasn’t the only one facing this dilemma, according to Educators for Fair Consideration, a nonprofit that advocates for undocumented immigrants, about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from high school each year but only 10,000 graduate from college.
With limited options, Salamanca took things into her own hands. She would submit an idea proposal to Voto Latino’s Innovator Challenge, which gives awards to five people with the best ideas in STEM aimed at Latinos in the U.S. Her proposal was DREAMers Roadmap, a nonprofit app that helps undocumented students around the country find scholarships to go to college.
Salamanca would win the competition and earn $100,000 to help jump start the app. She began working full time for DREAMer’s Roadmap after getting her associate’s degree from Cañada College in Redwood City in 2015.
Since the app launched in 2016, it
has helped over 20,000 undocumented students find scholarships.
The app finds scholarships from different organizations and shares scholarship information via text, email or social media. It also allows users to search for scholarships without having to create an account in case some undocumented students don’t want to give personal information.
DREAMer’s Roadmap has opened us countless opportunities for undocumented students across the country. Salamanca told Forbes that she is constantly hearing back from students about how the app has changed the trajectory of their lives. The app has also gained multiple national sponsors including the UC Berkeley’s Undocumented Student Program.
“As I travel the country sharing my story and my work I’ve been blessed to have met many of the users of our app and hearing their stories reminds me that we are doing a good job and fulfilling our mission of bringing hope and financial opportunities to immigrant communities.”
This is just the first step for Salamanca, who wants to continue helping undocumented students reach higher education.
Now a 28-year-old resident of East Palo Alto, Salamanca has received national praise and recognition for her work. In 2018, she was nominated for a Visionary of the Year award for her work towards undocumented communities. Salamanca now has a green card and has plans to continue her education at a four-year-college.
But for all the successes that have come Salamanca’s way she never forgets why she started this all. She reminds others the value of higher education and why having it harder for some to access it, is a loss of so much potential.
We are a country of immigrants and many of our giant companies have been founded by immigrants so why not educate our immigrants and accept them,” Salamanca told Forbes. “We as a country are losing so much talent and potential by making it so hard to educate these students. You would think we want to be a society of the most educated people but we make it nearly impossible for these kids to have an opportunity to be an essential part of this country. This is our home too.”