Aiming to send a message to Congress, the state Senate has passed a bill that would allow students who came to this country illegally as children to get state money to help pay for college.
The bill would make students who have been here for at least three years before earning a state high-school diploma eligible for College Bound, a scholarship program for low-income Washington students.
The bill passed 38-11 on Jan. 24, with all Senate Democrats and about half of Republicans in favor. A similar bill in the House has also garnered bipartisan support.
Its sponsor, state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, called it an important bill symbolically, at a time when the fate of the nation’s Dreamers — children brought to this country illegally as children — dominate the national debate on immigration.
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Last week, President Donald Trump said he supported an immigration plan that would provide a pathway to citizenship for young people who have been protected from deportation under the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. The issue has been at the forefront of a national debate over immigration reform for months.
However, Trump has also said a deal on DACA is contingent on money for the border wall and other security measures.
Frockt said the Senate’s message is that the state is wealthy enough to take care of the students who grew up here, whether or not those students have DACA status, and if DACA protections go away.
“We want to send a different signal (to Congress), that out here we think differently,” he said.
He described the bill as taking care of an unfinished piece of the Real Hope Act, the 2014 legislation that allowed low-income undocumented students to qualify for tuition help through another program, the State Need Grant.
The grant is one of several state programs that offer financial aid to low-income recipients, but it often runs out of money for all students who qualify because it is not fully funded.
College Bound, on the other hand, is a guarantee of tuition assistance for low-income students who sign up for the program in seventh or eighth grade, stay out of legal trouble and graduate from high school with a C average.
Frockt said many students who didn’t realize they were undocumented have signed up for College Bound in middle school, only to discover in their senior year that they weren’t eligible.
The legislation also makes students living here illegally eligible for the Opportunity Scholarship, which offers funds to low- and middle-income students majoring in science, technology, engineering, math and health care. The bill does so by allowing students to qualify by filling out the state’s own financial-aid application.
Frockt said all the state’s universities and community colleges support the measure, which is expected to have little impact on the state budget. He said the bill underscores that those students are here to stay, and that the state needs to help them earn a college education.
“The kids are not going back — I don’t care what Trump says, they’re not going to be deported,” Frockt said.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the House Higher Education Committee passed a bill that takes a slightly different approach to the same issue, guaranteeing that students living here without legal permission won’t lose their state financial aid if DACA is rescinded, said state Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge, the bill’s sponsor. Two of the committee’s four Republicans, and all of its Democrats, voted for the bill.
The bill gives resident status to students who have lived in Washington for at least three years immediately before earning a state high-school diploma. Essentially, it grandfathers in DACA students, allowing them to keep their status as state residents, Hansen said. It also covers students who don’t qualify for DACA but have lived here for at least three years before earning their high-school degree.
Frockt said that the two bills cover the same issue but take a slightly different approach.