OGDEN — When students who are undocumented immigrants pursue a higher education, they don’t qualify for the federal financial aid many of their peers rely on. That financial barrier limits the possibility of college for some undocumented students.
Sonora Grill in Ogden is raising funds for one of multiple scholarships at Weber State University that aims to provide undocumented students with a path to a college degree. From March 15-23, all purchases at the restaurant will go toward the Oportunidad Scholarship fund as part of its Dining for Dollars fundraiser.
“I think (the scholarship) is definitely a way that we can let them know that regardless of their immigration status, they can still achieve their academic aspirations,” said Enrique Romo, assistant vice president for student affairs overseeing access and diversity at the school.
Individuals who are eligible for the scholarship are first-generation college students, low income and not eligible to apply for FAFSA — the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. They also must have graduated from the Davis, Ogden or Weber school districts and attended high school in Utah for three or more years.
Many of the students who receive the scholarship are DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — recipients, meaning they are allowed to continue living in the U.S. despite not having obtained citizenship because they were brought to the country as children. A large portion of DACA students, Romo noted, do not remember living anywhere except the U.S.
“A lot of them were raised here, so this is really the only country or area that they know,” Romo said. “By us giving them an opportunity to get an education, it benefits us all. ... It gives them an opportunity to give back to this country that has given them so much.”
Romo estimated there are 90-95 undocumented students currently attending Weber State, but said it’s a difficult number to keep track of because of fluctuating enrollment and some students’ decision not to report their citizenship status.
The Oportunidad Scholarship provides funding to 10 to 15 of those students annually, Romo said. Once the scholarship is awarded, it can last up to four years as long as students are maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA, enrolling in at least six credits hours per semester and progressing toward graduation.
“Any time we can offer scholarship support for students, in whatever format that is, it’s beneficial to all of our futures as a collective body of society,” said Kyle Braithwaite, a development director at the school.
The school hopes to expand the number of Oportunidad Scholarships it is able to award, but that is dependent on fundraisers like Dining for Dollars being successful, Romo said. Since its inception eight years ago, according to a press release, the Sonora Grill fundraiser has contributed more than $193,000 to the scholarship.
“One of my personal philosophies is that I’ve always felt for every dollar you invest in your business, you should have $10 invested in your community,” said Steve Ballard, owner of Sonora Grill, in the release. “That’s how I look at this scholarship. It is my way of investing in the community, and it will indirectly come back and support my business, which I feel like we’ve proved it has.”
Those wanting to contribute to the scholarship fund may dine at the restaurant, located at 2310 S. Kiesel Ave. in Ogden, and order takeout through Sonora Grill’s website or by calling 801-393-1999. Donations can also be made to the fund on Weber State’s website.
Romo said he “highly encourage(s)” the community to support Dine for Dollars but also hopes that people will recognize that undocumented students are here and deserve the chance to succeed. Each undocumented student, he added, has overcome numerous challenges, and many often tell him how grateful they are to be attending school in the U.S.
“That opportunity is not lost on them,” he said. “Citizenship status shouldn’t be a barrier for them to realize their full academic potential. ... The more opportunities we give them to succeed, the more we’ll benefit as a country.”