Melanie and Sheila Cruz-Morales (C’23), twin sisters and recent graduates of Georgetown University College of Arts and Sciences, have sought to widen higher education access for undocumented, low-income students since they transferred to Georgetown in 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their advocacy is motivated by their own experience as scholars, activists, and undocumented students.
The Cruz-Morales sisters immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico, when they were four years old and are considered undocumented students protected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Undocumented students face significant obstacles to higher education, including state and federal policies that prohibit access to funding. Some undocumented students are also ineligible for DACA protections due to long-running legal challenges that have weakened the program.
Both Sheila and Melanie began their college journey by earning a two-year degree closer to home, at Bergen Community College. During that time, they each worked three jobs while earning straight As and establishing their own nonprofit organization, College Access for Non-Citizens (C.A.N.). C.A.N. has organized fundraisers to help DACA recipients pay for their biennial renewal application fee and provides resources that assist undocumented, first-generation, and low-income students of color in accessing higher education.
“We help those students with state financial aid applications, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, college application processes and counseling—ensuring that people can access the resources they need,” says Melanie.
When the sisters transferred to Georgetown, they continued their community-building efforts, even as classes were held remotely. In their first semester, they were both elected to Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA), helping direct university and federal resources for students adapting to the pandemic environment. Melanie eventually was elected as speaker of the Senate, and Sheila served as the chief communications officer for GUSA.
During their time at Georgetown, the twins gained the respect of their professors, including Donna Brazile and Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò. In the fall of 2023, Sheila and Melanie were invited to an event at the White House with President Joe Biden due to their advocacy on behalf of undocumented students. At the event, they also spoke with President Biden about the importance of immigration reform. Sheila has even made a cameo in one of Biden’s recent campaign videos. After graduation, Melanie and Sheila plan to attend law school and continue their work in politics.
“When we arrived at Georgetown, we wanted to soak up everything in the short amount of time we had,” said Sheila. “I am grateful and humbled to say we accomplished so much more than we ever intended. It’s because of hard work and persistence, but also because of the magic that can only happen at Georgetown.”