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Why the country's most elite universities are giving undocumented students full rides

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Why the country's most elite universities are giving undocumented students full rides

WATCH  | We were with Mizraim Belman Guerrero on his first day of school as an openly undocumented student at Georgetown University.

Meet Mizraim Belman Guerrero

He graduated from high school with a 3.9 GPA, straight As and met President Obama.

It's not really a surprise that Mizraim Belman Guerrero, 18, was admitted to Georgetown University on pretty much a full scholarship.

What is a surprise to a lot of people is that he's undocumented. And now, more and more private universities are clamoring to bring students like him onto their campuses and give them aid.

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Mizraim Belman Guerrero was brought to the United States illegally when he was 4 years old.

Online resource center

Georgetown's riverfront D.C. campus is no stranger to undocumented students. In fact, in 2015, one of them spoke at the senior convocation and it's had plenty more graduate.

But this year, Georgetown became one of the few private universities to launch an online resource center for undocumented applicants and students, people who Google questions like:

"Can I apply to Georgetown if I'm undocumented?"  and  "Do I qualify for aid?"

The answer is "yes" to both of those questions, by the way.

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Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., boasts a 16% admission rate and more than 7,000 undergraduate students.


Coming to the United States

Belman Guerrero's road to Georgetown wasn't an easy one. On his first day of classes at the university, he tells me he came to the United States when he was 4 years old.

"I was born in Guanajuato, Mexico," Belman Guerrero said. "And I was raised there for four years.

"My mother, [older] brother and I immigrated to the United States due to economic reasons. We immigrated to Austin, Texas, and have lived there ever since."

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Mizraim Belman Guerrero's mom is undocumented and lives in Austin, Texas, with his dad and three brothers.

On the brink of deportation

In 2011, his father, who's also undocumented, was detained and faced deportation proceedings. He's since been released and is back home with Belman Guerrero's mother -- who is also undocumented -- and two brothers in Austin.

Belman Guerrero is not alone by any means. Some 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school every year, according to College Board.

About 5-10% of undocumented students who graduate from high school go to college, according to the Immigration Policy Center. Experts say that's likely due to the high cost.


He's not the only one

Belman Guerrero is one of 27 undocumented students who are "out" about their immigration status at Georgetown.

He qualifies for financial aid like any other student at Georgetown, and this semester he's paying just $11.50 of the close to $33,000 tuition bill.

Financial aid isn't the only resource Georgetown offers undocumented students. Earlier this year, it launched an undocumented students resource page for prospective students looking to get into the university.

They also have a student group on campus called UndocuHoyas, which creates a safe space for students.
Mizraim Belman Guerreo

There's a student group on campus called UndocuHoyas that lobbied the administration to keep university housing open during the holidays for undocumented students who can't afford the risk of flying home for fear of deportation.

Students eligible for DACA are able to seek work-study positions with the university. 


Georgetown isn't the only school

Schools like Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania have similar admissions policies. A student's legal status doesn't stop them from being admitted or getting scholarships.

Tufts University also has on-campus housing open during the breaks just for undocumented students.

Georgetown University launched a resource web page for undocumented students, prospective and current.


 Catholic-Jesuit tradition

Why are elite universities spending all this money on undocumented students who will likely have a hard time securing a job in the country without a Social Security number once they graduate? In an email statement, Georgetown said:

"In keeping with our Catholic-Jesuit tradition, Georgetown has a long history of admitting students regardless of immigration status.

"Georgetown University is committed to ensuring that our students have the resources they need to attend by meeting a students' full financial need."

United We Dream

This past summer, Georgetown helped three UndocuHoyas attend the United We Dream congress in Texas in the hope that these students would return with new strategies and solutions to implement here at the university.

They and other UndocuHoyas will be sharing an action agenda with the Undocumented Students Task Force.


'A place of belonging'

Andrea Flores, an anthropologist who's studied how undocumented status affects a student's experience in obtaining a higher education, says these private universities are filling in a gap left by public institutions and government.

"That sense of belonging to a civic institution from K to 12 is gone," said Flores. "Private schools provide a place of belonging again."

Public education is available to all children in the United States, regardless of their legal status. That stops in 12th grade.

'This is felony harboring'

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, says "compassion" isn't a good reason to admit undocumented students.

"You cannot have a university assisting in somebody remaining here illegally," said Stein. "Knowing they're here illegally, this is felony harboring under the immigration law."

There's no law that dictates if a private institution can spend time and resources on undocumented students. Public universities can admit undocumented students, but most cannot give them financial aid.

Protected by DACA

Belman Guerrero will be the first to tell you that he's in a "privileged" position compared to most undocumented immigrants.

Not only was he admitted to a top-tier university but he is protected from deportation thanks to DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a policy passed under the Obama Administration.

DACA gives work permits to undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children (before their 16th birthday and before 2007). His two-year DACA permit expires next November.

Focused on classes, maybe law school

Whether or not he'll be able to renew his permit depends largely on who wins the presidential election come November 2016.

For now, Belman Guerrero says he's focused on classes and finding the clubs he wants to join. He'll think about how he's going to get himself to law school later.

Belman Guerrero adds he's also focused on convincing his long-distance girlfriend that Georgetown is the school for her.


Should private elite universities be supporting undocumented students?

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