A bipartisan effort in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon led to the passage of a bill that would extend financial opportunities in higher education to some undocumented immigrant students in Washington state.
Senate Bill 5074 makes some existing scholarships available to undocumented students who are eligible under previously-established guidelines.
In 2003 the state Legislature passed House Bill 1079, which allowed undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at Washington colleges so long as they had received a high school diploma, lived in the state for three years prior to graduation, and had continued to live in the state since then. In 2014, two years after an executive order by then-President Barack Obama allowed protections for undocumented youth who arrived in the United States before the age of 16, the state legislature passed the REAL Hope Act, augmenting HB 1079 to allow undocumented students that meet the original bill’s criteria to receive state-funded financial aid.
Now the supporters of a new bill, SB 5074, hope to extend a number of state scholarships, grants, and loans to these students as well.
The move comes at a moment of heightened tension over the fate of those who have benefitted from Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy. President Donald Trump rescinded DACA in September 2017, with implementation of his order delayed for six months. Congress is currently debating the fate of the program as the March deadline looms over the recipients, also known as Dreamers.
A prime sponsor of SB 5074, Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said the new bill provides an extra sense of security to Washington’s undocumented students at a time when federal policy is unsettling.
“I cannot think of a more appropriate statement for this Senate to make at a time when the futures of thousands of young people in our state and across the country are up in the air,” Frockt said. “In Washington, we recognize their value as students and as leaders in the only country they have ever known.”
Frockt’s bill passed in the Senate with a 38-11 vote and is headed to the House of Representatives.
Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, was one of several who spoke in support of the bill. Ranker serves as chair of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, which moved the bill to the senate floor. Ranker thanked fellow committee members Sen. Brad Hawkins, R-Spokane and Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, for moving the bill in a bipartisan fashion.
“We are fulfilling a promise today to make absolutely sure that every student—no matter who you are or when you came to this country—has access to college and the opportunity to succeed,” Ranker said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Miloscia said passage of the bill was the morally correct thing to do, and promised a return of investment as well.
“Washington state will prosper if we make sure these sons and daughters, these brothers and sisters of ours, reach that final step,” Miloscia said. “This is the right thing to do, let’s vote for this.”
Voting no on the bill was Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, who said there was not enough funding to make up for additional students receiving aid. Baumgartner proposed an amendment for the state to create additional funding, which failed to pass by one vote.
“This bill is an empty promise,” Baumgartner said. “If this was such a great and important thing, the majority of this body would have found $5 million to fund it.”
Also opposed was Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, who proposed an amendment that would make the bill apply only to undocumented students currently living in the state. Ericksen said his concern was the bill would create an incentive for immigrants to illegally enter Washington.
“I think it’s rather immoral to create this incentive because what happens is you have children who are sent across the southern border by themselves,” Ericksen said. “Many of those children die coming to America.”
Ericksen said he believed such immigrants have the best of intentions when coming to the United States, although he is concerned about their safety and the safety of federal agents on the border.
Frockt did not express such concerns about those would apply for financial aid, explaining that there are still requirements to be met before a student is eligible.
“These are young people who are doing all the right things,” Frockt said. “They deserve the full promise that our state and this country have to offer.”
This report was produced by the Olympia bureau of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association.