OLYMPIA -- Add immigration to the list of issues that could provoke a heated argument in this year's Legislature. Two mutually exclusive proposals involving undocumented students in the state's colleges will be in the Senate.
Young adults who came to the United States with their parents as young children and were raised and educated in this country would be eligible for some state college aid under a proposal announced Tuesday by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.
What's being dubbed the Washington State DREAM Act would open up the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship programs to high school students who are undocument residents. Those programs already have long waiting lines; the State Need Grant last year had 32,000 applicants who couldn't get aid because the program ran out of money. . .
. . . Supporters estimate the proposal would add between 400 and 800 students to the pool of eligible recipients for State Need Grants.
The beneficiaries of such a change would include children of Hispanic immigrants, many of whom came to Washington as farm laborers and stayed to raise families. As the number of Hispanic residents has grown, so has the state farm production on a variety of crops, Murray said. Those farmworkers are taxpayers in Washington, which relies heavily on sales taxes, he added.
"It's a perfect issue for a bipartisan attempt to run a bipartisan Senate," said Murray, the Senate minority leader in an obvious dig at the coalition majority that consists of the chamber's 23 Republicans and two disaffected Democrats.Murray said he will propose a tax on capital gains earnings for upper-income Washington residents to help pay the cost of this and other education programs in the state.
Any tax increase would be controversial by itself, but the Senate also has legislation proposed by Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, to remove the one piece of assistance undocumented students who graduate from a Washington high school have, the ability to receive in-state tuition at a public university. The Legislature changed state law in 2011 to allow in-state tuition for students who aren't documented citizens but lived in the state long enough to attend school and graduate, and Benton's proposal would change it back.
Benton's bill has not been scheduled yet for a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee and Murray's isn't even in written form yet, but either one could prompt a legislative fight over the legal and illegal immigration, which is key to the state's farm industry.
Both bills involved what are being called "deferred action" residents as a result of President Obama's orders to defer prosecution or deportation of longterm residents who came to the country illegally but are otherwise obeying laws and are established in their communities. The children of those students would be the beneficiaries of the federal DREAM Act, which would offer citizenship to young adults who finish college or serve in the armed services.