TOPICS > Politics

For undocumented ‘dreamers,’ private initiative aims to help pay college tuition

February 25, 2014 at 6:40 PM EDT
Some states now allow students who entered the U.S. illegally as children to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities, but they are not eligible for federal financial aid. Jeffrey Brown talks to Carlos Gutierrez of Republicans for Immigration Reform and Henry Munoz of the Democratic National Committee about a private sector effort to help these scholars.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to the domestic front and a bipartisan effort to help undocumented young people attend college.

Jeffrey Brown has our conversation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Every year, some 65,000 students who entered the country illegally as children graduate from U.S. high schools. And while 17 states now allow these students known as dreamers to pay in-state tuition at public higher education institutions, they are not eligible for federal financial aid like Pell Grants or low-interest government loans.

Now with the prospect for immigration reform stalled, if not dead, on Capitol Hill, a private sector effort to help these students is under way.

It was founded by former Washington Post owner Donald Graham and our two guesses, Carlos Gutierrez, former commerce secretary under President George W. Bush. He now chairs the political action group Republicans for Immigration Reform. And Henry Munoz, a businessman in San Antonio, Texas, who serves as finance chair for the Democratic National Committee.

And welcome to both of you.

CARLOS GUTIERREZ, Former Secretary of Commerce: Thank you.

HENRY MUNOZ, TheDream.US: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Carlos Gutierrez, what is the idea behind this? What is the problem you think that you’re addressing?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s, as you said, kids who came to this country, no fault of their own, undocumented, and they find out very often when they graduate high school that they can’t keep going, that they’re not in the country legally.

So that’s it. Their career has stalled, so what we’re doing is providing them the opportunity to keep studying as they want to do through these scholarships.

JEFFREY BROWN: And how is it supposed to work, Henry Munoz? I mean, it is still relatively limited in scope in terms of the numbers you’re going to reach and the colleges who are participating.

HENRY MUNOZ: Well, it started out of a conversation a year ago really with the dreamer community.

So, in many ways, it’s a scholarship initiative that was designed by dreamers for dreamers. But we began by focusing on communities, the community of Washington, D.C., of Miami, colleges in Texas, for example, to try and get at a community-based response to the fact that these young people don’t have access to programs.

So, in many ways, it’s a modest yet national type of program to begin to provide private programs for dreamers.

JEFFREY BROWN: Immigration reform has been very political, partisan. You sit here as a Republican and Democrat. Is there a larger message that that conveys as well?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Well, it’s the way I think the country should be thinking about it and the way Congress should be thinking about it.

The divide between the two parties today is just absolutely wider than I have ever seen it. Immigration…

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you feel that — you mean on immigration in particular or everything?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I think on a lot of things.


CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I think the extremes are dominating. Immigration reform is good for the economy. It’s good for our society.

We can’t grow without immigration. We just have to face up to that. And even the Senate bill doesn’t recognize that. They allow for 110,000 agricultural workers. Our country needs a million. So we need to embrace the fact that we have to have immigration in order to grow. And we all want to grow our economy.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are you getting much pushback for this effort, criticism from fellow Republicans?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: I’m sure there are a lot of them who — some of them who are criticizing the effort. I haven’t heard of it.

In fact, the Republicans with whom I speak, businesspeople, are terribly frustrated that members of Congress, members of the House don’t get it. They don’t get that this is an economic issue, that we should be embracing this, and that we should be a party of immigration if we’re a party of growth and prosperity.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, yet, Henry Munoz, of course, nothing much seems to be happening on — on — politically. Is this effort a kind of substitute, or where — where do you see the politics of it?

HENRY MUNOZ: Well, it’s a recognition that, even without a piece of legislation to address immigration reform, we can have an impact on people’s lives.

People forget the dreamers are our neighbors. They’re the people that we pass when we’re walking down the street. There’s half-a-million young people who have filed for DOCA and are capable of accessing one of these scholarships. So, the more that you invest in an individual, the more you reinforce the value of the American dream, the more power that you give to people. Hopefully, it will have an impact on the conversation happening in Congress.

JEFFREY BROWN: Where is the money coming from?  I see there’s some foundations. It’s from yourselves and individuals?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Foundation money, individuals.

Henry was talking a little while ago about a grassroots effort to allow people to contribute $5, $10. We want to show that there are a lot of people in the country who are in favor of this.

What worries me is how history will judge us, depending on how we treat these kids. And it would be a real shame to just cut off their progress.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is personal for both of you, right? Well, is that — is that — is that right?


I mean, look, it’s personal, but it’s also there’s policy here. I’m an immigrant myself, and I have worked in Mexico. I have worked throughout Latin America. I know how hard these people work. I know how hard they are working. I know how much they dream. I know how much they want to achieve something.

But I step back, as a U.S. citizen, and I realize that this is good policy for our country and for our economy.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not everyone agrees still, right?

HENRY MUNOZ: Well, I come from Texas, and I see it every day.

But every place I travel in the country, I see dreamers and I understand the value of the American dream. And so, in many ways, this is a process, a movement of people to educate our country about the economic benefits and the undeniable fact that the demographics in this country are shifting.

And we really need to make sure that the future of our economy is solidified. And one of the ways to do that is to make sure we have people who are educated and can be a part of that economic future.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the goal or hope immediately? How many people do you think you can reach?

HENRY MUNOZ: Interesting. TheDream.US was established around the concept of a decade of opportunities, of educating at least 2,000 dreamers over 10 years. It’s got the support of everyone from Bloomberg Philanthropies to the Gates Foundation, and, as Carlos mentioned, many people who are only capable of giving $5 and $10 by going online to the TheDream.US.

JEFFREY BROWN: I want to ask you lastly, because there is so much talk about and concern about the role of money in politics these days and the role of wealthy people and foundations putting money into particular causes.

This is a cause. You’re men of means, and you’re turning to others. What do you say to people that you’re — who would be worried that you’re — in some ways, you’re buying your way into what is a very political cause?

CARLOS GUTIERREZ: Well, you know, this is not a super PAC designed to elect an official.

This is a private effort designed to help kids who need help. And I think that — I think it’s a very noble cause. You talk about the personal side. When I came to this country, I felt like people welcomed me. These kids don’t feel welcomed. And that’s not good for our society. It’s not good for them. We should be saying come on in and be successful.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s your response on the money issue?

HENRY MUNOZ: My father used to tell me, no peso, no say-so.


JEFFREY BROWN: No peso, no say-so.

HENRY MUNOZ: I think what better place to invest your money than in the future of our country, and specifically with this very highly motivated generation of young people who want access to the American dream.

And I think it’s time that the Latino community step up and involve itself around efforts like this. So, I feel good about it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right. Henry Munoz, Carlos Gutierrez, thank you both very much.

HENRY MUNOZ: Thank you.