January 19, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Children of illegal immigrants should be able to apply for higher ed aid

 

In his “I Have a Dream” speech, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called African-Americans exiles in their own land. That’s an apt description for the children of illegal immigrants because, in the only country they’ve ever known, they’re treated unequally.

“Go back home,” some people say. But to where? To a country they don’t remember? To a language they may not speak?

The DREAM Act, first proposed in Congress in 2001, is aimed at giving qualified children of illegal immigrants legal residency. Though much debated, it has never passed. So, in summer 2012, the Obama administration granted two-year deferrals from deportation to young “DREAMers” who have lived in the country five years continuously, as long as they have been in school or served in the military.

The reality is 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants reside and work in the United States, and their children are here through no fault of their own. They attend public schools and get a better education than many of their parents. Culturally, they are Americans, and they want the same opportunities to lift themselves up.

They should be encouraged, but it’s been a battle at every step.

In 2003, the Washington Legislature passed a controversial bill making such children eligible for in-state tuition. And last week the state House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill that allowed them to apply for the State Need Grant and College Bound Scholarship. Both are subsidies for higher education.

This is the second run at this bill, and it’s getting the same treatment it got last session from the Senate Majority Coalition. No vote, said state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, the chairwoman of the Higher Education Committee. Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, a Democrat who crossed over to form the Republican-dominated coalition, said he’s for the bill, but will defer to the chairwoman.

Capital observers believe it would pass if the full Senate were to vote.

Critics of the bill fear the state will become a “magnet” for illegal immigrants. Besides, said Bailey, the Legislature has higher priorities. Others said that about 30,000 students who qualified for the State Need Grant didn’t get it last year. So, not enough money. End of story. On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray introduced a bill that would provide financial aid to states, like Washington, that offer in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.

The “magnet” argument ignores the reality of illegal immigration. People come here because they’re desperate for work, not as part of a long-range strategy to secure financial aid for college. It’s true that the State Need Grant is underfunded, but that’s because the Legislature hasn’t deemed it a high enough priority. In fact, higher education in general has gone begging over the past decade.

Finally, a belief in equality if you have the money is no belief at all.

The right move is to add these students to the pool of financial aid applicants. Dashing their dreams before they can even compete is a disservice to the American dream.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.

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