Washington legislators scramble to protect DACA student financial aid

Young attendees at a Seattle rally in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September. (Photo by Venice Buhain)

With President Donald Trump planning to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Washington state legislators are moving to preserve financial aid for students without documentation.

The Trump administration is phasing out DACA and made plans for it to end by March, and Congress has been debating on whether to replace it.

While that debate goes on nationally, state legislators are deliberating on House Bill 1488, commonly known as “the DACA bill.” The bill would preserve the ability of immigrant students with DACA status to receive Washington state financial aid and pay in-state tuition — whether or not DACA continues under the federal government.

The bill also would open the door for undocumented students to be eligible for the state’s College Bound Scholarship, which is given to Washington low-income students who maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average in high school. The bill also would allow students in the Opportunity Scholarship Program who cannot apply for federal financial aid to continue under the program using the state’s financial aid application.

The House Committee for Higher Education may make a decision on the bill on Wednesday, Jan. 17. It would then proceed to the House Appropriations Committee, before heading to the Senate for deliberation. In the opposite chamber, the Senate Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development heard a similar bill last week, SB 5074.

Eligibility for the College Bound Scholarship would make a difference for people like Alejandra Perez’s brother Jose. Alejandra Perez told legislators at a hearing last week that when her brother was in eighth grade, he signed the pledge to maintain his high school grades to be eligible for the state’s College Bound Scholarship.

However, when Jose Perez applied for college, he was denied the scholarship not because of grades, but because he was undocumented, said Alejandra Perez, who is a graduate student in Education at University of Washington Bothell. She also is undocumented and is a student counselor with the Washington Dream Coalition.

“He signed a pledge that promised him a way to pay for college so he would realize his educational dreams,” Perez said. “Jose has held up his end of the pledge but the state did not.”

“Our state has failed my brother and many undocumented young people who are in fear and have less hope to pursue their educational dreams,” Perez said.

In the state of Washington, undocumented students are eligible for residential tuition rates if they have lived in the state for at least three years before completing their high school education.

In 2014, the state passed an additional bill that gave undocumented students eligibility for the State Need Grant. However, this did not open up their eligibility to apply for the College Bound Scholarship, which provides state financial aid to low-income college students.

HB 1488 was sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island), who also sits on the House Committee for Higher Education.

Ernie Tao, a lobbyist in the University of Washington Office of Government Relations, said he is hopeful that HB 1488 will pass through the Higher Education committee, he is more concerned about whether the House Appropriations Committee will pass it.

“Their job is to allocate money… although this issue is about real human beings, they want to hear about the dollars and cents,” Tao said. “So it’s gonna be really hard for us to get testimony and to convince legislators about this task.”

Tao believes that the changes have the best chance of passage within this legislative session, which ends in six weeks. If Congress does not pass a replacement for DACA, Tao believes that it will be much less likely that any bill similar to HB 1488 will manage to pass through the a future state legislature.

1 Comment

  1. So a foreigner in our nation illegally is granted in-state tuition while a U.S. citizen from Wisconsin pays out-of-state tuition? What a joke.

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