By Jana Winter, ,
Published November 20, 2015
A public community college in California has set up a scholarship fund for immigrant students — including illegal immigrants. The $2,500 scholarship has sparked anger by some, including at least one lawmaker who is threatening to cut off federal funding to the school.
Orange County's Santa Ana College says the controversial new memorial scholarship will be funded by private donations and honors former student Tan Ngoc Tran, a student leader and immigrant-rights activist who transferred to Brown University before she was killed by a drunk driver on May 15.
Students eligible for the new scholarship must have a 3.0 or higher grade point average, demonstrate a financial need and must also be trying to become an American citizen. Those eligible include students holding green cards, students who have permanent residency — and illegal, undocumented immigrants.
The scholarship was announced by the Santa Ana College Foundation at an informal memorial service for Tran held at Santa Ana College on Wednesday, said Laurie Weidner, spokeswoman for the Rancho Santiago Community College District, which governs Santa Ana College.
Weidner repeatedly emphasized to FoxNews.com that no public funds would be used for the scholarship.
But Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., whose district includes the taxpayer-funded Santa Ana College, says that isn't quite true — because the scholarship diverts resources from Americans in need of education funds.
"The fact that a public employee of a public college is seeking to circumvent immigration laws is problematic," he told FoxNews.com. "The fact that it's being associated with a public institution means there's public funds involved: If you have a fund being operated by public employees, it's public."
He said he could not believe that a college would announce such a scholarship at a time when the majority of Americans has increased concerns about security threats along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"They totally misread the will of the people," Rohrabacher said of the school. "It's very bizarre."
The GOP lawmaker sent a letter to Santa Ana President Erlinda Martinez and has been in touch with members of the district board.
District board member Philip Yarborough — who is an elected official — says he's gotten a flurry of calls from outraged taxpayers who do not want public schools giving priority funding to illegal immigrants.
He was trying to find out exactly where the money would come from to fund this memorial scholarship.
But Weidner, the district spokeswoman, said critics are overreacting, and said the privately funded scholarship is meant to honor a "wonderful student leader" who continued her education after community college.
Tran, 27, was an undocumented immigrant pursuing a doctorate degree at Brown University at the time of her death. She was a leading member of the Dream Team, an activist group lobbying for the passage of the Dream Act, a bill that would provide certain protections for illegal immigrants living in the country, including giving access to scholarship money.
"We want all of our students to dream big and go to an Ivy league school — if they try hard and keep their focus, they can have the American dream too," said Weidner.
In his letter to the president of Santa Ana College, Rohrabacher called the scholarship "an affront to law abiding citizens whose tax dollars will pay the bill" and "an unconscionable insult to immigrants who took the time and considerable effort to come to this country legally.
"Channeling our scarce resources to illegal immigrants, even if they are students, is unforgivable at a time when so many of our citizens and legal residents are struggling to meet their own education needs," he wrote. "[I]f you feel compelled to misrepresent the interests of the taxpayers and your own students you are putting continued public financing for Santa Ana College in jeopardy."