SEATTLE (AP) — With the federal government giving young illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a chance to stay in the country, advocates in Washington state are relaunching efforts to open state financial aid to college students who don’t have documents.
“Now these kids can live and work here without fear of deportation,” said Ricardo Sanchez, chairman of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, the main group behind the effort. “The financial aid makes more sense.”
But Sanchez faces an uphill battle in Olympia.
The state’s financial aid pot — the needs grant program — is already strained after years of economic woes and rising tuition costs. Despite lawmakers providing additional money, more students who qualify aren’t getting aid because demand is up.
More so, state financial aid is often tied with federal aid, something that students who qualify under the program can’t apply for.
Add the reluctance by lawmakers, including conservatives ones, and opposition from some constituents to give financial aid to students who entered the country illegally.
“The state is in the hole by significant amounts of money. We’re gonna give significant resources to people who I think were given illegally a legal status,” said Bob West, chairman of Grassroots of Yakima Valley, a tea party group that started as an organization to lobby for strict immigration enforcement in Olympia.
West, who three years ago testified against a similar bill, said expanding eligibility would act as further encouragement for illegal immigrants to come.
“I realize that families come here and come here with small children, who are obviously not making the choice,” said Craig Fisher, a member of West’s group. “They come here to have a better life, if they come here for that and if the children and the children are benefited, that’s another incentive for the parents. I think it’s better if we approach it for the standpoint of legal immigration.”
President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could expand the rights of more than 1 million young illegal immigrants nationwide.
Dovetailing with the new program, Sanchez plans to lead an effort to get a measure passed in Olympia during the next legislative session that would make young illegal immigrants eligible for state financial aid.