York University president Rhonda Lenton says the 'Dreamers' program was a chance to expand access to education for young people with precarious immigration status. (David Donnelly/CBC)

York University opens a door to students from the other side of the (immigration) tracks

There’s nothing quite like putting your money where your mouth is when it comes to helping those in need.

Toronto’s York University, for example.

A lot of people at York, including its president, are going to bat for a lot of people who otherwise might not check all the right boxes to qualify for a post-secondary education.

Rosa Solorzano, whose family first fled El Salvador for Texas before moving to Toronto in 2012, took part in last year’s “Dreamers” project. Her refugee claim has now been accepted and she is returning to York this fall as a full-time student studying film production. (David Donnelly/CBC)

I refer to people living in so-called precarious immigration status, caught in legal limbo.

They are called “Dreamers” in the U.S., where they caught up in a political chess game at the seeming behest of the Republican Party and President Donald Trump.

We don’t generally call them “Dreamers” in Canada and nobody has an exact idea about how many live here though estimates range up to half a million.

What is certain is that a great many of them have limited opportunities to work as well as very little chance at a post-secondary education.

Take, for example, a child who is brought to Canada with a parent who is seeking refugee status.

If that child is 18 or in between high school and university, they would find themselves stuck without status and without an opportunity to afford university and without status, they wouldn’t qualify for student loans.

Enter York University and the FCJ Refugee Centre.

Somehow, they found the needed money last fall with a Pan Am Games grant from the city of Toronto to get a pilot project off the ground–a project that would allow students in immigration limbo apply for scholarships and/or pay the domestic tuition rates their neighbours pay.

A student in York’s so-called “Dreamers” program heads to a class in Canadian public policy. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Twelve students were admitted.

In March the money ran out, but York President Rhonda Lenton is not the type to sit back and let good ideas die.

Money for the program continues to be found and other universities–and students from across the country--have noticed.

In a year, the “pilot project” has grown into a “program.”

Twelve students are now 16 students.

And counting.

I spoke by phone with President Lenton about how the program started and where she sees it headed.

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