Dream Act becomes a reality in Washington state

By Elliot Suhr, WNPA News Service

Students who arrived in Washington state illegally as children will soon be eligible for college financial aid.

Early Tuesday evening, Senate Bill 6523 passed the House and now goes to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has stated his support for the bill.

The first bill to pass both chambers this session, Washington state joined three other states—California, New Mexico and Texas—in enacting a version of the Dream Act which extends state grants to students who arrived illegally in the United States as children.

“It means the world to me,” said 19 year-old Dulce Siguenza. She arrived in Washington from Oaxaca, Mexico when she was seven years-old. Currently attending South Seattle Community College, she dreamed of being able to go to the University of Washington.

“This opens an opportunity for me to actually be able to do that,” Siguenza said.

The measure passed the House on Tuesday with a 75-22 bipartisan vote. “When we work together, when we dream together, we can do great things together for our state,” said Rep. Zach Hudgins, D-Renton, chief House sponsor.

“This is about keeping our best and brightest here in Washington, and giving everybody a shot at the American Dream,” Hudgins said.

The bill requires students to have lived in the state for at least three years and to have received a high school diploma in Washington state before receiving aid.

Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington said the bill was flawed and would hurt the middle class.

“Right now, the taxpayers in this state are on the hook for paying for the education of 6.6 million Washingtonians. If we pass this, they’re on the hook for the kids of 7 billion people in the world,” Hargrove said.

The Real Hope Act is nearly identical to the Washington Dream Act, which passed out of the House with a 71-23 vote on the first day of the legislative session.

While the House bill doesn’t identify a funding source, the Senate version appropriates $5 million from the general fund to pay for the financial aid disbursements under the state need-grant program.

Another version of the bill passed the state House last year; however, it was blocked in committee by Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, who chairs the Senate Higher Education Committee.

Bailey said the bill didn’t address 32,000 students who qualified, but couldn’t receive state need-grants due to a lack of funding. “Adding more to that pool of students, in my opinion, was a false promise,” she said.

When it was passed in the House earlier this year, Republican leaders said that the bill was not a high priority.

In an unexpected reversal, Senate Republicans introduced Senate Bill 6523—renamed the Real Hope Act—with Bailey as one of the chief sponsors. The bill passed 35-10 with bipartisan support in the Senate on January 31, turning around a near six year hold on the Democratic priority.

“When we put money where our words are, it really makes a huge difference,” Bailey said.


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