By Asia Fields
State-run financial aid programs may become more accessible to undocumented students in Washington state.
If House Bill 1488 is passed, it would make it easier for undocumented students to meet eligibility and renewal requirements for state-funded financial aid programs, such as the Washington State College Bound Scholarship and Washington State Opportunity Scholarship.
Despite some opposition in the House, Associated Students Legislative Liaison Nora Selander expects House Bill 1488 to reach the Senate in the next few weeks.
“In Washington at least, we’ve made a commitment [to] our undocumented students,” State Rep. Drew Hansen said during the committee hearing on the bill. “They’re Americans in all but papers and we want them here. We want them earning their degrees, getting jobs, providing for their families and making better lives.”
Hansen, the bill’s sponsor and chair of the House Higher Education Committee, said during the committee hearing on the bill.
“I think in order to recruit and retain undocumented students, students of color [and] first year students on our campus, opportunities like this are really important.”
Liaison Nora Selander
The Washington REAL Hope Act, adopted in 2014, sought to give undocumented students access to state funding, but did not fully do so.
While they can apply for the State Need Grant, other state program have requirements that are difficult for some undocumented students to meet.
One of these students is freshman Ana Ramirez.
Ramirez is an undocumented student who has not yet received Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
DACA was enacted under President Obama and provides temporary relief and work permits for young adults brought to the U.S. as children. Undocumented students must fall under DACA to be eligible for the College Bound Scholarship.
College Bound requires students to sign a pledge in middle school saying they will pursue higher education.
Ramirez signed the pledge in seventh grade, unaware that she didn’t meet the College Bound requirements. Ramirez didn’t learn she was undocumented and without DACA until her freshman year of high school.
Selander shared Ramirez’s story in front of the House, along with other students from around the state who came to testify. Ramirez said not having access to the full range of scholarships makes it difficult for her to afford school.
According to the American Immigration Council, there are around 65,000 undocumented students who graduate high school nationally. Only 5 to 10 percent of these students go on to college.
“I know there would be more if we had this kind of help because there are all these barriers for us. We are here for this education and we deserve this education as much as everyone else,” Ramirez said.
Selander and AS Board members used social media to urge Western students to call state Rep. Van Werven in support of the bill last week. Van Werven represents the 42nd district, which includes north Bellingham.
Rep. Van Werven remained opposed to the bill.
Van Werven said fully funding the State Need Grant should be legislators’ priority. There are currently more than 20,000 eligible students in Washington who have not been able to receive the grant due to funding issues, she said.
Not all of the calls she received from Western students were in support of the bill. Some students felt it was unfair to low-income students who already qualify for all state aid, Van Werven said.
In regard to students like Ramirez who do not qualify for all state aid programs, Van Werven said she would remind them of other resources.
“There are unlimited opportunities for [undocumented students] currently. They receive in-state tuition and they are eligible for the State Need Grant. If they are DACA students and they meet the requirements, they are eligible to receive the College Bound Scholarship. There are lots of opportunities for private scholarships out there,” Van Werven said.
Ramirez recognized the State Need Grant is underfunded, but argued that because of this, it is not a sufficient resource for undocumented students like Van Werven claimed. In addition, she said private scholarships are highly competitive and difficult to receive.
Overall, Ramirez feels undocumented students, particularly those without DACA status, have less opportunities to fund their education.
“There are many students who don’t have DACA, and they deserve access to higher education as much as undocumented students with DACA,” Ramirez said in an email.
The bill has passed the Higher Education and Appropriations Committees. It has been referred to the Rules Committee for review.
Selander believes the bill can impact the lives of the hundreds of undocumented students at Western and is in line with Western administration’s goal to be more inclusive.
“I think in order to recruit and retain undocumented students, students of color [and] first year students on our campus, opportunities like this are really important,” Selander said.
Ramirez hopes Western students will show their support.
“I want Western students to know we’re just like everyone else. Most of us grew up here. This is our country, just like it’s everyone else’s,” Ramirez said.
Note: This article was corrected on June 27, 2017, as Ramirez did not have DACA, but was not ineligible for the program.