Kimberly Aleman was brought to the United States from Mexico by her parents when she was 3 years old. Now in her second quarter at Yakima Valley Community College, she is allowed to apply for a state need grant for the first time, under a law that takes effect Thursday (June 12).
The law, officially called the “Real Hope Act” but also known as the Washington Dream Act, expands state financial aid to college students in the country without legal status. It’s one of about 200 laws that take effect this week.
“So many students have been here all their lives,” Aleman said. “We can go to school, but it’s the money that stops us.”
After Aleman graduated high school in 2013, she took a quarter off and worked at McDonald’s to save money. She was accepted to Eastern Washington University, but couldn’t afford it, so she started at the community college near her home in Wapato.
The 19-year-old aspiring lawyer who recently started working for OneAmerica — an immigrant advocacy group that lobbied at the Capitol earlier this year in support of the new law— said that she’s already submitted paperwork for the grant this year. If she receives it, she said, after she gets her associate’s degree next year, she’ll apply for Eastern again.
“I want to further my education and make my parents proud so that they know that everything they’ve done was worth it in the end,” she said.
The new law requires students to have received a high school diploma or equivalent in Washington state and to have lived in the state for at least three years before they can apply for the aid.
The law allocates an additional $5 million through June 30, 2015, from the state’s general fund to add to the state need grant program, bringing the program’s total budget up to $308 million. The extra money was meant to help cover up to 1,250 additional applicants, but as in past years, not all applicants will receive a grant.
“We know the demand will exceed the funding,” said Rachelle Sharpe, director of student financial assistance at the Washington Student Achievement Council. “These students are not guaranteed funding. They have to apply and be considered just like any other student.”
She said that for the 2012-13 school year, the state provided need grants to 74,000 students, and 32,000 eligible students didn’t receive the grant.
As of this week, more than 1,500 students have applied for the upcoming school year. The average award is $4,100 per year.
Other laws that take effect Thursday are:
• A measure that allows military veterans to pay in-state college tuition without waiting a year to establish Washington residency.
• Those under age 18 will be prohibited from using tanning facilities unless they have a doctor’s prescription. Facilities that allow people under age 18 to use a tanning device could be fined up to $250 per violation.
• American Indian tribal members who were arrested before 1975 can apply to the court to expunge their misdemeanor, gross misdemeanor or felony convictions if they were exercising their treaty fishing rights.
• People under a restraining order for domestic violence can be ordered to surrender all firearms after a hearing if a judge rules that person is a credible threat.
• Three bills related to human trafficking become law. One makes it a crime to coerce someone to perform labor or services by withholding or threatening to withhold or destroy someone’s immigration status papers. Under another, the charge of trafficking in the first degree is added under the umbrella of sex offenses. The third allows a victim of trafficking to have prostitution convictions cleared from their record.