Scholarship program for undocumented students to expand

A local nonprofit program that helps high-performing undocumented students get into college is planning to expand to other states in response to the federal government’s decision not to take action on immigration reform anytime soon.

Golden Door Scholars, created by Red Ventures CEO Ric Elias, is taking applications from undocumented students in the Carolinas who want to start college in the fall of 2015.

Such students need the extra financial help, experts say, because they do not qualify for federal loans, and state law in both Carolinas doesn’t allow undocumented students to benefit from in-state tuition fees, which are lower.

Elias said he founded the program in 2012 with a belief that immigration reform would soon make college more affordable for high-performing immigrant students brought to the U.S as young children.

However, Congress is at an impasse on passing legislation and President Barack Obama announced this weekend that he would delay executive action on reform until after the November elections.

Elias plans to expand the scholarship program to states that don’t offer in-state tuition rates to undocumented students.

Tennessee will likely be the next state to host the program, with Golden Door partnering with sympathetic businesses and donors in that state to supply the money, organizers said.

“There are 29 other states where exceptional talent is going to waste,” said Elias in a statement. “Our system supports these students until they’re 18 but then creates overwhelming barriers for them to get good jobs and contribute to the economy. This is not an immigration issue. It’s a civil rights issue.”

In the Southeast, only Virginia and Florida have provisions that allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition rates. Across the country, undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition in 21 states.

Now in its third year, Golden Door Scholars is providing full scholarships and career training for over 40 students across the Carolinas and plans to add many more to that group this year.