Jeffrey P. Bezos, founder of Amazon and owner of The Washington Post, announced Friday that he is donating $33 million to a scholarship fund for young “dreamers,” immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
The donation from the world’s wealthiest person comes amid fresh pressure from business leaders as talks on Capitol Hill over how to resolve the legal status of dreamers are foundering. The White House and some GOP lawmakers rejected a tentative deal from a bipartisan Senate group on Thursday — the same day President Trump made incendiary remarks about people from developing countries.
Bezos, who is the richest person in the world, and his wife, MacKenzie, will be donating the sum to TheDream.US, a scholarship program that has awarded more than 1,700 immigrants more than $19 million in financial assistance since it launched in 2014.
The money will help fund 1,000 college scholarships and is the largest donation yet to a fund established by Donald E. Graham, the former publisher of The Post who sold the company to Bezos in 2013.
Graham launched TheDream.US with Henry R. Muñoz III, the finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, and Carlos Gutierrez, who served as commerce secretary under President George W. Bush.
In a statement announcing the donation, Bezos cited the story of his adoptive father, who left Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan. “He landed in this country alone and unable to speak English,” Bezos said in a statement. “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.”
The donation “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,” said Candy Marshall, president of TheDream.US. “We would invite anyone who questions the value of Dreamers to please come meet some of our students.”
The group previously has received grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Inter-American Development Bank, Patty Stonesifer and Michael Kinsley, among others.
Trump plans to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in March unless Congress replaces it. The Obama-era program provides temporary legal protections to roughly 700,000 dreamers.
Democrats, under intense pressure from immigrant advocates, are trying to use their leverage to force a long-sought immigration deal as part of talks to keep the government open beyond a Jan. 19 spending deadline.
In a bid to bolster the negotiations, more than 100 corporate leaders this week co-signed a letter to Congress calling for immediate legal relief to dreamers. The corporate leaders said, “The imminent termination of the DACA program is creating an impending crisis for workforces across the country.”
Bezos co-signed the letter along with tech titans Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Tim Cook of Apple and top leaders from General Motors, AT&T, the Gap, Target, Starbucks, Johnson & Johnson, Warby Parker, Uber, Lyft and others. Pressure from top business leaders could pay dividends in the closing days of the high-stakes negotiations that party leaders believe could lead to an agreement soon.
Bezos is a frequent target of Trump, who has accused the businessman of purchasing The Post to advance his business interests. In late December, the president called for the U.S. Postal Service to raise shipping rates that it charges Amazon.com in a deal that he said disadvantages the federal agency.
Bezos did not respond to Trump’s comments, but Amazon has defended its arrangement with USPS, noting that federal postal regulators consider the agreement profitable for the mail service.
Donations to higher education are a frequent way for the world’s wealthiest individuals to spread their wealth. Bill and Melinda Gates, through their Gates Foundation, have pledged $1 billion over 20 years to their Millennium Scholars program. Vedanta University in India is the recipient of the largest individual donation, a $1 billion endowment established by the Anil Agarwal Foundation, according to records kept by the Chronicle for Higher Education.
The genesis of the gift, Graham said, was a tweet.
On June 15, Bezos asked his Twitter followers for suggestions for philanthropy. He tweeted that he wanted his charitable activity “to be helping people in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” Graham jumped on that, writing Bezos to suggest helping the students known as dreamers obtain a college education.
Graham, in a conference call Friday, said the Bezos gift would open college doors for students who are shut out of federal financial aid programs. Graham noted that the announcement came as Congress is debating what to do about hundreds of thousands of people who have received protection from deportation through the federal initiative known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. The Trump administration is ending that Obama-era initiative.
“We want to see a generous, wise solution to the issue,” Graham said. But he emphasized that TheDream.us does not support any particular bill or politician.
Nearly 3,000 students currently benefit from TheDream.us scholarships. The Bezos gift would raise that total by more than a third. Graham said the potential demand for scholarship aid is far larger, with tens of thousands of students graduating from high school every year who could be eligible for help from TheDream.us or programs like it.
Estefany Garcia, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso, is a recipient of a scholarship from TheDream.us. She said she cried when she learned she got the award. “It was one of the happiest moments of my life,” she told reporters. “My hope is to put my degree to good use.”