As undocumented immigrants still struggle to pursue higher education, 26-year-old Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca is hoping to make finding scholarships as easy as opening an app. In 2008, during her senior year of high school, neither her guidance counselor or teachers knew what resources existed for someone like her – an undocumented immigrant who’s called the United States home since age 4.
California’s AB540 allowed her to receive funds, but Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) didn’t exist until 2012. Therefore, she didn’t have the right to work afforded to DACA recipients. Also, eligibility for in-state tuition doesn’t mean that financial aid is a possibility.
“It is going to be the roadmap to the road of the journey that we lead every day of uncertainty,” the East Palo Alto resident said about the app, which will launch on iOS and Android this month. “This would be their guide to college. It will give them hope.”
It’s a natural progression for Salamanca since starting Sarahi.tv – a blog to help undocumented and low-income students find scholarship opportunities – in 2012. To begin with, the app will offer at least 500 scholarships.
And it’s built with undocumented immigrants in mind, because no one is forced to create an account or to provide information they feel uncomfortable giving out.
A $100,000 prize from the 2015 Voto Latino Innovators Challenge helped Salamanca’s make the app possible. She invested $50,000 to develop the Android version, with the rest of the money going toward her salary, marketing, and building a website. An anonymous person funded the iOS version with a $25,000 donation.
“The toughest part has been finding additional funding,” she said. “A lot of foundations have trouble seeing the impact that we’re going to have in the community.”
Salamanca, who now has her green card, graduated from the Cañada College in Redwood City, and plans to attend a four-year university this year.