Today, the Senate Higher Education committee heard testimony on the Washington Dream Act, a proposal which would help Washington's promising, undocumented aspiring citizens attend college and continue to contribute to their communities.
"All students deserve the opportunity to succeed in our higher education system," said Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, the prime sponsor of the proposal. "These students grew up here, went to school here and paid taxes here, and we want them to be able to succeed here. Giving these students a fair shot means giving them the same access to our state financial aid programs that other students get. All of our children deserve the chance to fulfill the American dream"
Today, Washington's young undocumented citizens qualify for in-state tuition but are denied access to state financial aid. With the federal DREAM Act languishing in Congress, the Washington DREAM Act builds upon the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which President Barack Obama authorized via executive order last year. Under the proposal, undocumented students who attended and graduated from a Washington high school would qualify for Washington's State Need Grant, which helps students from low-income families afford college.
Many young people and students came to the hearing to testify. "Growing up watching Spongebob and my favorite food being the McChicken, whenever someone asks me 'who are you' or 'what are you', I always answer 'I am an American,'" said William Lee in testimony before the committee. "Knowing that my parents were low income and college was unaffordable, there were many times when I felt discouraged in my studies and discouraged to dream. However, I was determined. I was determined to earn my education and determined to be successful in college. Looking for ways to go to college, mostly through scholarships, I continued to work hard and search for every possible opportunity. However, this determination was shaken when I realized that opportunities that were so easily available for my peers were not available for me."
Lee continued, saying "I believe that the Dream Act is more than just a dream – it’s a promise. A promise that we will serve this country to our fullest if we are given the tools to do so."
Murray developed the idea for the Washington Dream Act in response to the federal government's inability to pass meaningful legislation to help assimilate undocumented immigrants into our society. He introduced SB 5655, the Senate companion of HB 1817, the bill heard by the committee today. SB 5655 was denied a hearing in the Senate by the Republican majority.
HB 1817 passed the House by a vote of 77-20, with many Republicans in support. Senators Bailey, Becker, Benton, Carrell, Dammeier, Hewitt, Hill, King, Litzow, Schoesler, Smith and Tom are all members of the majority caucus who represent districts where both of their House counterparts voted for the Dream Act.
"We’ve heard the Senate Republicans talk time and time again about bipartisanship," said Murray. "This is a basic, common-sense bill that won broad bipartisan support in the House. I hope that my Republican colleagues will follow the lead set by House Republicans and support moving forward with this bill. The Washington Dream Act has the votes to pass on the floor of the Senate – the only question is whether the Republican leadership will let it get there."