Dream Act dead this session, Senate leader says

The state Senate majority leader has quelled any speculation that a proposal known as the state Dream Act would pass the Senate this session.

In a telephone interview late last week, Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said House Bill 1817, making undocumented students eligible for need grants, would not be brought to the floor for a vote.

Tom’s assertion came amid speculation that a rarely-used parliamentary procedure called the 9th Order could be employed to pull the bill from the Senate Higher Education Committee, where it has languished. Committee chairwoman Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, said in late March the bill would not receive a committee vote, effectively killing it until next session.

But proponents held out last-minute hope, which now apparently has been extinguished.

“The only other way to get a bill to the floor would be to go to the 9th Order, which we’re not going to do,” Tom said.

Tom was one of three Senate Democrats who in 2012 caucused with Republicans to implement the 9th Order to pass a Republican-authored operating budget after Democrats failed to secure enough votes for their proposal. Tom said employing such a maneuver requires coordination, but above all, agreement.

Tom, who caucused with Republicans again this year along with one other Democrat to form the Majority Coalition Caucus, said he supports the bill as well as previous efforts to provide access to higher education for foreign-born students brought to the country illegally as children. However, he wouldn’t second-guess Bailey’s decision to nix the bill, which was sponsored by local Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger.

In an interview Thursday prior to Tom’s remarks, Chandler expressed cautious optimism that the bill could still get a vote. He did not respond to calls for comment Friday.

“You can’t tell what might have been,” Chandler said of the tempestuous state of affairs in the Senate this session. “I just try to deal with the situation as it arises.”

In a previous interview with the Yakima Herald-Republic, Bailey said she was concerned about making more students eligible for the need-based student aid program when an estimated 31,000 eligible students already don’t have access because of a lack of funding.

Proponents were quick to criticize Bailey and the Majority Coalition Caucus for not taking action on the bill in committee. The bill’s fate, however, might have been predetermined in January.

That’s when the chairmanship of the Senate Higher Education Committee was one of six such positions offered to Democrats by the Majority Coalition Caucus when it took power. Democrats, who largely favor HB 1817, only accepted three committee chairmanships, and the freshman Republican senator Bailey was then installed as Higher Education chairwoman.

“It would have gotten a vote,” Tom said. “If anybody’s to blame, (Democrats) had the ball in their court.”

Last Tuesday, more than 200 immigrant state residents attended a protest at the Capitol in Olympia organized by the Seattle-based immigrant rights group OneAmerica to urge lawmakers to vote on the Dream Act, about half of whom were from the Yakima area.

Wapato High School senior Kimberly Aleman, 17, whose parents brought her to the United States from Mexico when she was 2, said it wasn’t until she was in the eighth grade and began talking about college that her parents told her she was undocumented.

“Hearing those words just tore me up,” Aleman said in a telephone interview.

Aleman, who is on the school volleyball and track teams and volunteers at a local nursing home, said she considers herself similar in most ways to the average U.S. citizen, except that she was born in Mexico. Making students such as her eligible for the state need grant recognizes their potential, she said.

“I’ve been here my whole life, I’ve helped my community, I’ve done everything a U.S. citizen would do,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to be called a different name.”

Aleman recently applied for and was granted temporary resident status under President Barack Obama’s executive order known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Coming from a poor family, Aleman said she is relying on financial aid for higher education but options are more limited for someone with her immigration status.

Undocumented residents are eligible for in-state tuition after the Legislature approved House Bill 1079 in 2003, but the law does not qualify them for state or federal financial aid.

Aleman was accepted to Yakima Valley Community College, and eventually plans to transfer to Eastern Washington University and one day become an immigration attorney.

“I want to become a lawyer for undocumented students,” she said.

The House bill, which was approved 77-20, and the Senate version proposed by Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, are likely be reintroduced in the 2014 legislative session.

This year’s regular session is scheduled to end April 28, but lawmakers haven’t ruled out the possibility of a special session.

—Mike Faulk can be reached at 509-577-7675 or mfaulk@yakimaherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Mike—Faulk.