By Mary Slosson
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - The University of California's Berkeley campus announced on Tuesday that a private foundation has given $1 million to fund scholarships for illegal immigrants.
The scholarships will go to nearly 200 students who are not eligible for federal grants, government-backed loans or work-study positions, the school said.
The Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund, a private family foundation, provided the scholarship grant. It is the largest scholarship for undocumented immigrants ever given to a U.S. university, the foundation said.
"These motivated, hardworking and inspiring students are an asset to our state and our country," the fund's president, Ira Hirschfield, said in a statement. "Now that it's legal to do so in California, we encourage other foundations and private donors to consider providing funding to help undocumented students achieve their potential."
Higher education has become a battleground in the nation's immigration wars that have seen the Obama administration grant leniency to young people brought into the country illegally as children even as a number of states have sought to crack down on illegal immigrants within their borders.
Last year, California signed into a law a bill dubbed the California Dream Act that allows illegal immigrants to receive privately funded scholarships to attend the state's public colleges and universities after attending at least three years of high school in the state.
The California law is named after national legislation in Congress to give young, undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years a pathway to citizenship through college or military service.
The federal bill failed to win passage in December 2010, and its chances have dimmed since a Republican majority took control of the House of Representatives.
Critics say the California Dream Act gives illegal immigrants a false promise because their status will not change after graduating from college and they will remain unable to find legal employment.
But that reality may well be shifting. President Barack Obama will push for comprehensive immigration reform during his second presidential term, his spokesman said in November.
And the Obama administration already relaxed deportation rules earlier this year by allowing for some illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children to be given temporary legal status.
(Reporting by Mary Slosson; Editing by Paul Thomasch and Lisa Shumaker)