DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Don Graham is best known as the former owner of The Washington Post. His family ran the paper for 80 years until he sold it to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos last summer. Since then, Graham has been focusing on a long time passion, helping underprivileged students pay for college.
LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
A few years ago, Graham identified one group in particular that needs help with tuition, students who are brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally, undocumented immigrants. They do not have access to federal assistance.
DONALD GRAHAM: How do low income students go to college? They get Pell grants, they get U.S. government loans. One hundred percent of very low income students, unless they're extraordinary and get a full scholarship, need grants and loans to go on to college and these students could get none.
GREENE: And that's where Graham is stepping in. He's raised $25 million to give scholarships to kids known as dreamers. One of the people helping Don Graham to manage the foundation called the Dream.US is Gabby Pacheco.
WERTHEIMER: Pacheco's family moved to Miami from Ecuador when she was 8. They came on tourist visas, then hired a lawyer in hopes of staying on legally. When she and Graham sat down with our colleague Steve Inskeep, Pacheco shared her own story.
GABBY PACHECO: I went to school and I was a happy child, not knowing my situation. And it wasn't until I was in eighth grade where my sister graduated from high school, and she was really excited to go to college and one morning, she left really early with my mother to enroll at one of the institutions in Miami and she was turned away. She was told that because she didn't have papers, she couldn't go to school.
And she came home crying and I thought, oh, my gosh, if this happened to her, this is probably going to happen to me.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Does that mean that they just had not told you about your legal status, your parents had not told you?
PACHECO: Well, it wasn't that it was something you told a child, it was just...
INSKEEP: Or maybe they didn't even quite realize themselves how bad it was at that point.
PACHECO: I think so. I think, you know, it's a very complicated process. Unfortunately, one of the 33 different papers that immigration had asked was missing in the application and we never found this out until later on when actually immigration came knocking on the door one day in 2006.
INSKEEP: So you're situation was not no path to citizenship, which is the situation of a lot of people who come here. Your situation was there's a path to citizenship, but something happened. You fell over a rock. I mean, there was some problem that was hard to fix once you'd had that problem.
PACHECO: That's right.
INSKEEP: And you ended up going to college, is that right?
PACHECO: I did. I actually fought really hard and I found a woman at Miami-Dade College who's a recruiter that said, I'm going to help you to go to college. It was not cheap. I remember my first semester was a little over $4,000.
INSKEEP: Out-of-state tuition?
PACHECO: That's right.
INSKEEP: Because you were openly acknowledging you're not a formal resident of Florida, even though you were living in Florida, your family was in Florida.
PACHECO: Yeah. It was really, really difficult to come up with that dollar amount. And I borrowed money and my parents put whatever they could in the pot to be able to help. But I worked sometimes. I remember I had six odd jobs.
INSKEEP: What is your legal status now, Gabby Pacheco?
PACHECO: So because of 2012 and the deferred action for childhood arrivals program, I am not deportable for the next two years and also I am able to get a work permit to legally work in the United States.
INSKEEP: So is this correct? You've raised $25 million or you're trying to raise $25 million?
GRAHAM: Oh, no. We have $25 million already raised. We have a generous contribution from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. That's the great news. But we have so many highly, highly qualified students, so many motivated students, so many who want an education because it's the key to a job, and we would love to serve more of those students.
INSKEEP: Let me ask a couple of questions that people who are concerned about illegal immigration are no doubt raising, perhaps sitting at home thinking; one of them being, Gabby Pacheco, you have a very impressive story. You're a very impressive person. But there's a law, there's a process and it didn't work out for your family. People may ask, well, why should you be here? Why not go home to Ecuador?
PACHECO: Yeah. And that's a fair question. I think that, for me, this is my home. You know, this is where I remember having my first boyfriend and just not really being able to think of myself as anything else than an American. I call myself sometimes and undocumented American and, you know, that's one of the reasons why I've been fighting so hard to change the immigration laws because it's - they're not functioning. They're not working.
And so a person like myself who has a lot of talent, has a lot of desire and a lot of heart, I think this country would benefit from me being here and working hard for this country.
GRAHAM: And no matter how you feel about immigration, it's hard to get mad at somebody who came here with their mom and dad when they were 2 years old. They've never lived anyplace else. You've told them to go home. They've never lived anyplace else since they were a baby. And it isn't just that they opportunity to go to college will be tremendous for the dozens of kids graduating from high school here in Washington this spring or the hundreds of thousands graduation from high school in Los Angeles, in Houston and Miami, it's going to be very important for the country whether those children have an opportunity to become doctors and nurses and computer programmers and people who create jobs or whether they must live in the fringes all their life.
INSKEEP: Gabby Pacheco, thanks very much.
PACHECO: Thank you for having us.
INSKEEP: And Donald Graham, thanks to you.
GRAHAM: It's a pleasure being here, Steve. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.