On Jan. 12, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos and his wife, Mackenzie, made a major announcement. The multi-billionaire couple will be donating $33 million to a scholarship fund for "Dreamers," the group of undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The donation to TheDream.US program will give “1,000 undocumented immigrant graduates of U.S. high schools with DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status the opportunity to go to college," according to a statement published on the fund’s website, and of course, Twitter was quick to react.
In a statement on TheDream.US’ website, Bezos said, “My dad came to the U.S. when he was 16 as part of Operation Pedro Pan. He landed in this country alone and unable to speak English. With a lot of grit and determination — and the help of some remarkable organizations in Delaware — my dad became an outstanding citizen, and he continues to give back to the country that he feels blessed him in so many ways. MacKenzie and I are honored to be able to help today’s Dreamers by funding these scholarships.”
This announcement comes a day after Donald Trump reportedly referred El Salvador, Haiti, and countries in Africa as “sh*thole countries.” Many people are seeing this donation as a political statement in support of immigrants, on top of being a boon for the 1,000 students who will be given the opportunity to go to college.
While many are praising the scholarship announcement, others took the opportunity to point out how the wealth that makes this scholarship and other charitable donations like it possible, is also a manifestation of the major income inequality in this country that makes college unaffordable, perpetuating a cycle of debt that worsens the income gap.
While $33 million sounds like a lot of money to the average person, for someone with a net worth well over $100 billion, it's actually not too much to give. Some Twitter users did the math.
Some folks on Twitter challenged others to imagine a world where income and wealth disparities weren’t so stark, making Bezos’ donation less needed. Currently, over half of all Americans make $15 an hour or less, according to Fortune, and a quarter of Americans have an income that is below the federal poverty level.
At the same time, according to a 2012 Berkeley study, the top 10 percent of earners took home 50 percent of all income, and the top 1 percent took home 20 percent of the income in the United States.
Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US, thanked Bezos for his donation and said, “It is a shot in the arm for Dreamer students at a time when some are questioning whether they should be in the United States at all. We would invite anyone who questions the value of Dreamers to please come meet some of our students. We started this program to benefit the Dreamers, their families, and the United States of America.”
With the scholarship announcement coming a day after the president's derogatory comments towards immigrants of color, many took to social media to tout their educational and professional accomplishments, but it’s important to remember that immigrants are worthy of respect whether they attend college or not. Playing into respectability politics and painting the parents of Dreamers as “the real bad guys” for bringing their children into this country, isn’t going to persuade folks to see immigrants as equals.
Jeff Bezos’ donation will definitely help the students who receive the scholarship, who undoubtedly deserve the opportunity to further their education without worrying how to pay for it. There’s likely a young immigrant that just arrived in the United States just as Bezos’ father did years ago; help from the government and other organizations can ensure she has the chance to succeed too.