PARAMUS, N.J. — Twin sisters who advocated for higher education for undocumented students while attending Bergen Community College in Paramus from where they recently graduated are headed to Georgetown University this fall. But their path to get there wasn’t linear.
In a press release from the college, when Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales, Teaneck residents, first expressed interest in Georgetown, the College’s Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society Administrative Advisor Angie Goldszmidt connected them to a Bergen alumnus who attended the university. While the twins qualified for the Georgetown Preferred Considered Program by virtue of their GPAs -- Melanie had a 4.0 and Sheila had a 3.9 -- their status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals prevented it.
Melanie’s advocacy for her and her sister, and an inquiry into the issue of citizenship with university officials resulted in the institution’s waiving of the citizenship requirement. The Cruz-Morales sisters eventually qualified for the program and earned the scholarship. The women qualified for the Georgetown Preferred Considered Program, which provides full, need-based scholarships valued at $75,000 each. This includes tuition, room and board.
“Sheila and I both are very excited and happy to be able to get the opportunity to continue our education at Georgetown University,” Melanie Cruz-Morales said. “It is truly a dream come true. When starting our journey at Bergen Community College, we were excited and knew that we had the opportunity to do everything in these two years to eventually get admitted to an extremely selective school such as Georgetown. Bergen gave us the opportunity to get here, and we are very thankful. Now, Sheila and I feel though as our hard work has paid off and we are super excited to get started at Georgetown this fall so that we can make the most of our time there and get involved.”
Despite the recent hardship of losing their uncles, Javier and Martin Morales in quick succession from Covid-19 — Javier presuming the role of the father figure for the family who brought the girls and their mother to the U.S. from Mexico when they were 4 — they’re looking forward to moving forward with a grateful heart and the work that needs to be done. The sisters' journey, though a difficult one, blazed a trail for them to major in government and then pursue a career in law to become immigration and civil rights attorneys.
“Melanie and Sheila are two of the hardest working students I have encountered at Bergen Community College,” Goldszmidt said. “Their dedication and perseverance allowed them to overcome exceptional challenges in their educational journey and I am so proud of them for being accepted to Georgetown University. I have no doubt that they will continue to excel and pave the way for future Bergen students.”
While attending Bergen, the Cruz-Morales sisters participated in the Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society and the Judith K. Winn School of Honors and worked as English-as-a-Second-Language tutors at the English Learning Resource Center. Additionally, they started a community organization called College Access for Non-Citizens (C.A.N.) to help undocumented high school and community college students gain access to higher education. The organization helps students navigate the higher education system by assisting them with filing college applications, scholarship programs, the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the new NJ HESAA alternative financial aid application for undocumented students. In their free time, the two organize and work as immigrant rights activists. For more information on C.A.N., visit instagram.com/collegeaccessnoncitizens.