Policy change expected to pump billions into the economy

Mariana Martinez paid her own tuition at Miami Dade College after her family’s support ran out after the first semester.

Now 22, she has worked as a babysitter making $5 an hour, a makeup artist at a mall kiosk, then selling hair products to raise the $9,933 a semester for the college education that one day will help her open her own restaurant.

An undocumented immigrant from Venezuela, she has attended public schools in Florida since age 9. Unlike her sister, who married a U.S. citizen and got access to many educational resources, Martinez was on her own.

And although HB 851, the new Florida law granting in-state tuition rates for public colleges and universities to undocumented residents, college tuition can still be expensive.

Martinez moved as a child because of political upheaval in Caracas. Her status prevented her from receiving financial aid from Miami Dade College or the government.

Some DREAMers are eligible for aid programs through their state or college by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), but only if they participate in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. However, most DREAMers have to work multiple jobs, look for private scholarships or turn to crowdfunding online.

Martinez’s first job was as a babysitter for family, friends and neighbors. But, when she needed money to pay for college, she had to look for something that paid more.

“Once I graduated high school, I had to find a job that didn’t ask for any papers or documents,” Martinez said. “So I worked a makeup booth in the mall because I love anything with makeup, beauty. I’ve always been creative.”

Martinez worked there for another year and a half before switching over to styling hair. Today, because of DACA, there are a lot more opportunities for Martinez, whose only assistance to date is a waiver provided by Miami Dade College that had granted DREAMers in-state tuition.

For the past three semesters, Martinez’ tuition was cut by 300 percent, saving her nearly $13,000, money that she can put toward her dream of opening a “small little restaurant, but the one that everyone knows about with all different types of food.”

To be eligible for the state’s HB 851 allowing undocumented students to qualify for in-state tuition, students are required to have attended a Florida high school for the last three years. They must also have enrolled at a Florida college within a two-year period, and acquired a high school diploma or GED.

Veronica Perez, however, was able to pay for college through some unorthodox means.

Perez moved to the United States at 9 from Monterrey, Mexico because of violent crimes in her neighborhood. After graduating from high school in 2010, she began attending Hillsborough Community College in Tampa, and, like many DREAMers, she “had to pay out of pocket.” But, unlike Martinez, Perez is not covered by DACA.

Instead of working multiple jobs, Perez turned to a newer, more innovative place for funding- gofundme.com, a crowd-funding resource that claims to be the “ #1 do-it-yourself fundraising website to raise money online.” Perez said she was able to raise more than $500 from family, friends and Internet users.

In addition to online fundraising, Perez was awarded a $1,000 scholarship from Young American Dreamers, an organization based in Auburndale that is comprised of “tomorrow’s leaders taking action today.” Between these two, Perez was able to take three classes at the local community college.

“I decided that I wanted to study mechanical engineering for two reasons,” Perez said. “One, my parents work in the construction/building industry and my favorite subject is math.”

Perez has been granted a full scholarship to Florida Polytechnic University, which will open in Lakeland this fall.