- Associated Press - Saturday, October 3, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - As Juan Constantino approached graduation from St. Joseph High School in 2012, he wasn’t sure what his future would hold.

He longed to attend college. But as a youth not in the country legally who moved to South Bend with his parents at age 5, he wasn’t eligible for most forms of college aid and his family couldn’t afford full tuition.

Then a high school teacher pulled him aside and told him something: Holy Cross College offers some scholarships for students not in the country legally.

That changed everything, said Constantino, 22, who applied for and received a scholarship for full tuition to the four-year private Catholic college. He’s now a Holy Cross senior on track to graduate next May.

“It just felt like home,” Constantino said, recalling the first time he stepped foot on campus.

Some area colleges, including Holy Cross and Goshen College, have created scholarships specifically to help students not in the country legally who otherwise might be shut out of higher education. The scholarships for students not in the country legally are privately funded.

“Before anyone can make a judgment on undocumented students, they need to hear their story,” Constantino said. “I’ve been here since I was 5.”

Constantino also was helped by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a federal program created under the Obama administration that allows some immigrants not in the country legally to work and live in the U.S. for at least two years. Those eligible may request to renew that status every two years.

Holy Cross established its San Juan Diego Scholarships (named after a Catholic saint who was a native of Mexico) in about 2007 primarily to provide college tuition for refugees who had relocated to the South Bend area, said Brother Jesus Alonso, the college’s vice president for strategic initiatives.

The scholarships, two a year, are now offered to accepted students who are eligible for DACA status. The scholarship covers the majority of college tuition for up to four years. Eight students - all from South Bend - are now attending Holy Cross on the scholarships, which are funded by the college.

The program fits in with the college’s Catholic mission, Alonso said. The mission statement says, in part, that Holy Cross seeks to “educate and form global citizens.”

“The Catholic Church mission challenges us to help others,” including the poor, Alonso said. All students, including undocumented students, are part of that global community, he said.

Holy Cross hasn’t received any negative reaction to the scholarship program, he said.

Juan Diego scholars must maintain a grade-point average of at least 3.0, provide 13 hours of service per week on campus and participate in campus activities.

Constantino learned at a young age that he wasn’t supposed to mention to anyone that he was born in Mexico. He attended Kennedy, Coquillard and Dickinson schools in South Bend, then St. Joseph High School.

During his teen years, one by one, his friends got their driver’s licenses. Because he was not in the country legally Constantino couldn’t apply for a license. “I didn’t tell anyone why I didn’t get a driver’s license,” he said.

He sometimes drove anyhow. Once, driving to pick up his older brother from work, Constantino got stopped by a police officer for having a burned-out headlight. The officer gave him a ticket for driving without a license, and he had to hire a lawyer and pay a $300 fine.

The second time he got stopped while driving, Constantino was arrested and taken to the Mishawaka police station, and he paid another fine.

Constantino was born in Madero, a city in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico, on the Gulf coast. In Mexico, the family lived in a cinderblock house without electricity or running water, he said. Their shower was water from a bucket, with water hauled from nearby lakes and streams.

In search of a better life, his parents brought him and his brother across the border into Brownsville, Texas, when they were young children.

Eventually, the family relocated to South Bend. They learned English quickly. The children were told to say they were born in South Bend “just so we wouldn’t get in trouble,” Constantino recalled.

At Holy Cross, he’s a theology and communications major, with minors in marketing and global perspectives. Constantino worked for a time in the admissions office and now works in the development office. After he graduates, he’d like to find a job in development, either for Holy Cross or another institution.

“This school has created opportunities for me and other students,” Constantino said. “If I went to Mexico, it would be like a foreign country.”

After Constantino was approved for DACA, he was legally able to obtain a driver’s license and a Social Security number. “If DACA is eliminated, I would be out of luck,” he said.

Constantino’s older brother also is DACA-approved. His younger brothers - ages 15, 11 and 9 - are U.S. citizens, having been born in the United States.

At Indiana’s public colleges - including all campuses of Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College - students not in the country legally are ineligible for in-state tuition rates or any state- or federal-funded financial aid, under a state law passed in 2011. The measure passed with a vote of 75-14 in the House and 38-12 in the Senate, and was signed into law by then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, who is now president of Purdue University. Students not in the country legally may apply to and attend Indiana public colleges, but they must pay out-of-state tuition rates and any tuition aid must be from private sources.

A few states, including California and Texas, have made immigrants not in the country legally eligible for state financial aid programs. More than a dozen states, including New York, New Jersey, Texas and California, allow students not in the country legally who attended in-state high schools to pay the same price at public colleges as legal residents of the state, the New York Times reported this year.

Private colleges have more leeway in assisting students not in the country legally.

Goshen College has awarded its Dream Scholarship for students not in the country legally since about 2008. It is awarded to one student a year in recognition of leadership potential and commitment to giving back to their community. The scholarship is up to full tuition and is renewable for a total of eight semesters based on academic performance and program participation, which means about four enrolled students at a time are attending through Dream Scholarships. The scholarship is primarily funded through the college’s operating budget and through designated gifts by donors, college spokeswoman Jodi Beyeler said.

Most Dream Scholarship recipients have been from north-central Indiana, but the scholarship is available to students from anywhere in the country.

Beyeler said she knows of no negative feedback Goshen College has received for providing scholarships to students not in the country legally. The scholarship is awarded in a manner similar to how the college provides aid to international students who aren’t eligible for federal or state aid, she said.

The University of Notre Dame in 2013 changed its policy to allow for admission of students not in the country legally. Notre Dame doesn’t release data on the number of such students enrolled. The university doesn’t offer scholarships specifically for students, but those students have access to college-funded financial aid.

Saint Mary’s and Bethel colleges also accept applications from students not in the country legally. Students accepted have the same access to college-funded financial aid as other admitted students.

Holy Cross also recently formed a partnership with the Chicago-based Noble Network of Charter Schools to enroll immigrants drawn from the network’s 16 campuses. That partnership is funding scholarships of up to $12,000 a year for Noble Network graduates who attend Holy Cross College.

Alonso, the Holy Cross administrator, encourages students not in the country legally to contact the college. “We encourage them to apply to Holy Cross, because we provide significant aid for students who are in that situation. If they are a good fit, we will do our best to make college affordable,” he said.

Constantino said he’s spoken openly with classmates and as part of panel discussions about the scholarship that is paying for his college education. There have been some classroom discussions about the topic. “There have been some heated discussions,” he said.

He said no one has openly criticized him for receiving a college scholarship as a student not in the country legally. “I’d be open to the conversation,” he said.

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Source: South Bend Tribune, https://bit.ly/1KPQTWC

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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