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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Washington Senate expands college aid for Dreamers, with or without DACA

OLYMPIA – Dreamer Graciela Nunez Pargas explains to KOMO-TV reporter Keith Eldridge what it meant to her to be eligible for state financial aid for college after the Senate voted 38-11 to expand that aid, even if Congress doesn’t extend the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program. (Jim Camden / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Washington is poised to continue offering college aid to so-called Dreamers, even if Congress doesn’t act to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival program.

The state Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday that would allow undocumented immigrants of college age, who were brought to the United States as children and graduated from a Washington high school, to be eligible for some new types of state financial aid.

That would be true for a student currently allowed to stay in the country under DACA even if Congress doesn’t pass legislation before a March 5 deadline, allowing some students’ protection to expire.

“With the debate over DACA, they don’t know what their status is,” Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor said.

Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, said extending state financial aid to Dreamers was a simple matter of social justice. “This is the right thing to do,” he said.

But some other Republicans balked. Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane, said the bill was adding Dreamers to the College Bound scholarship program without guaranteeing there will be enough money to cover the extra demand. He tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment requiring the supplemental budget have an extra $5 million for the program or the legislation would be void.

Senate Higher Education Committee Chairman Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, said the estimated cost of expanding the financial aid hasn’t been calculated, but “any money that is needed will be there.”

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, tried unsuccessfully to limit the benefit to those currently in the country. Making future Dreamers eligible creates an incentive for their parents to come to the state illegally.

The incentive for their parents to come to Washington is they are looking for work, Ranker countered.

Both Republican amendments failed and the bill passed 38-11.

After the Senate vote, current and former Dreamers gathered with the bill’s sponsors to celebrate. Graciela Nuñez Pargas, a recent University of Washington graduate who now works as an intern for the state Labor Council, said undocumented students “live in fear and uncertainty.”

She recalled how she had the grades in high school needed to attend college and was told all she needed was to be an American. “I was, but I couldn’t prove it on paper,” she said.

In a separate action, the House Higher Education Committee passed its own bill that would allow undocumented high school graduates in Washington to be eligible for the College Bound scholarship and other forms of state financial aid if the federal government eliminates the DACA program.

Wednesday’s action builds on a 2003 law that made undocumented students who graduated from a Washington high school eligible for in-state tuition, and the 2014 Real Hope Act, which made Dreamers eligible for the State Need Grant.