OLYMPIA — The state House of Representatives approved a measure Wednesday which would make young illegal immigrants eligible for college financial aid.
“We should give all students the opportunity to succeed in our higher education system,” said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, who originally proposed the bill. “These students grew up here, went to school here, paid taxes here, and we want them to be able to succeed here.”
The legislation passed with a 77-20 vote, and would allow illegal immigrants to obtain state financial aid through a State Need Grant.
Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, voted against the bill, stating many legal residents currently can’t get funding under the grant.
“I voted no because under our current funding system, there are approximately 32,000 Washington state eligible students who could not get any funding under the State Need Grant,” he said. “To extend the State Need Grant to the children of undocumented workers without first make sure legal residents could access the fund seemed the wrong move at this time.”
He hopes the state can look at extending benefits as the economy improves, he said in part.
Rep. Judy Warnick, R-Moses Lake, voted yes on the bill.
“This has been one of the hardest votes I’ve taken,” Warnick said. She was undecided for a long time, she said, but among the decisive factors were conversations with a couple of high school students from the district.
One boy was brought from Mexico at 2 years of age to live with relatives, Warnick said. She quoted a remark he made: “ ‘I’m an American in every way except on paper.’ And that line just stuck with me,” she said. A second boy had immigrated from Great Britain, and his family had received inaccurate legal advice.
He was trying to apply to the Naval Academy, but wasn’t eligible, Warnick said.
She said she doesn’t like to base legislative votes on anecdotes, but in her opinion the children aren’t at fault.
In addition, attorneys she consulted told her the legal process in those cases can last eight to 10 years.
Last year the Legislature approved a bill allowing children of workers in high-tech companies to apply for in-state tuition, Warnick said, so some in the Republican caucus thought low-income kids should have the same opportunity.
She said she hopes the Legislature can replenish the fund during this legislative session, because it’s important, and “all the students — all the students — will be able to apply for these grants.”
House lawmakers amended the bill on the floor to allow college aid to all young illegal immigrants.
According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, during the 2001-12 academic year, more than 74,000 Washington students at 68 institutions were served by the State Need Grant.
More than 32,000 students were eligible but did not receive the grant. There was $267 million dedicated to the grant, making up 94 percent of expenditures on Washington student aid programs.