From Life in the Shadows to a DREAM Fellowship

Being an immigrant in the United States is tough enough. When you’re undocumented, the difficulties escalate exponentially. Just ask Mehdi Mahraoui, or Danyeli Rodriguez, or Korede Griffith – all John Jay students from other countries who have struggled to overcome the challenges of being an undocumented immigrant.

Mahraoui, Rodriguez and Griffith are among 14 City University students recently chosen to participate in the 2013 DREAM Fellowship Program, a leadership development and internship program that provides college scholarships to undocumented students who demonstrate exceptional commitment to community engagement. The program is run by the New York Immigration Coalition and the Fund for Public Advocacy.

The DREAM Fellowship provides crucial financial support for students whose undocumented status makes them ineligible for federal or state financial aid. Mahraoui, a native of Morocco, has been in the United States for 15 years, 14 of those illegally. (“I just got my Green Card!” he said proudly.) He recalled the heartbreak of his senior year of high school. “I never understood what it meant to be undocumented until I watched my peers get into the colleges of their choice and receive financial aid. I hid my status from my friends and teachers for a long time, but finally I couldn’t take it anymore and broke down in tears. It was my coach and my teammates who helped me raise money for my first year of college.”

One of John Jay’s inaugural Jay Walk Scholars last year, Mahraoui is now in the John Jay BA/MPA program, and has been accepted into a one-year City University pipeline program that will prepare him for doctoral studies in social work. He wants to work with the underprivileged, as a way of giving back for help he has received. “I will never forget the kindness of my community in helping me to reach my full potential. The DREAM Fellowship has helped me fulfill my desire to advocate for immigrant communities, and by sharing my story I hope to help change the immigration system in this country.”

Mahraoui, Rodriguez and Griffith were introduced at an April 29 press conference, where they shared their own stories of resilience, hope and perseverance, and spoke of their travels to Albany and Washington to advocate for meaningful immigration reform. Rodriguez, a 17-year-old freshman majoring in Humanities and Justice, came to the United States from the Dominican Republic with her family at age 8, to seek a better future. “Although my struggle has been hard, learning English, finding friends who could understand me, working to make it to college, programs like the DREAM Fellowship have helped me keep my hopes up and keep fighting for comprehensive immigration reform. I am more motivated than ever and will continue to persevere.”

nullGriffith, a sophomore Criminology major and a member of the John Jay men’s basketball team, is a native of Guyana whose family moved to the United States for better economic opportunities. “I have faced many barriers because of my legal status,” he said, “but I have always believed that life is 10 percent what happens and 90 percent what you make of it, so I have worked hard in school in order to make it. Opportunities such as the DREAM Fellowship have helped make my life as an undocumented student easier, and is something I am grateful for.”

Established in 1964, John Jay College of Criminal Justice of The City University of New York is an international leader in educating for justice. It offers a rich liberal arts and professional studies curriculum to upwards of 15,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 135 nations. In teaching, scholarship and research, the College approaches justice as an applied art and science in service to society and as an ongoing conversation about fundamental human desires for fairness, equality and the rule of law. For more information, visit

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Doreen Viñas-Pineda 212-237-8645