Some young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally will be eligible for the state financial aid if legislation currently in the House is approved.
The proposal would allow students who have been granted a special immigration status to apply for State Need Grant money – provided they also meet other state residency requirements.
President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) plan created the special temporary status last year. It is available to young immigrants who came to the United States before their 16th birthday, have continuously resided here since Jun. 15, 2007, and don’t have a significant criminal history.
Democratic Rep. Zack Hudgins of Tukwila sponsored House Bill 1817 to give those immigrants access to state financial aid. The House Appropriations Committee passed his measure Friday on a 22-to-9 vote.
“I think we need to make sure we are keeping talent in our state,” Hudgins said. “I think we need to reward the kids that graduate from our high schools, are tied to our community, and get into our colleges and universities.”
The legislation would authorize the state to develop its own student-aid application in place of the commonly used federal form, which students who lack permanent legal status can’t use.
Republican Rep. Cathy Dahlquist of Enumclaw voted against the bill in committee. She said she isn’t opposed to the idea of offering the State Need Grant to DACA-qualified students, but she wants to see all other eligible resident students receive the grant awards first. She said she plans to offer an amendment to the bill to prioritize how state need grants are distributed.
Rachelle Sharpe, director of student financial assistance at the Washington Student Achievement Council, said the grant program – which has $303 million for the 2012-13 school year – is already underfunded as demand for financial aid has risen sharply following the recession. She said that last year more than 29 percent of the 106,000 students who applied for the grant were denied due to lack of funding.
Rep. Bruce Chandler, a Granger Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, said he will be offering up his own amendment when the bill comes up for a floor vote.
Chandler wants to see the State Need Grant eligibility expanded even more to match the rules for in-state tuition. In 2003, then-Gov. Gary Locke signed legislation that extended the in-state tuition rate to illegal immigrants’ children who have lived in Washington for at least three years and graduated from a local high school or got a GED.
“I think any student that graduates through our public school system should be treated the same,” Chandler said.Jimmy Lovaas: 360-943-7123