Ten years ago, the Legislature adopted a measure to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition, reducing the cost to go to college. The lawmakers who supported the legislation believed it was right to invest in children who, through no fault of their own, found themselves in our country and state, and with very limited access to opportunities.
It has been said that broken immigration laws have left our communities in the Yakima Valley to deal with the real-life consequences. Today, Congress still has not addressed immigration. Passing that law in 2003 was not easy, but it was the right thing to do, and it helped some students afford college.
This year, we are joining with our Democratic colleagues to build upon what was started 10 years ago. House Bill 1817 would allow students who have qualified for federal deferred action as children to be eligible for the state need grant.
Eligible students must sign a pledge in seventh or eighth grade to maintain a “C” average in school, have no felony convictions and must live in Washington state three years before being admitted to college. The legislation would not give these scholarships away — students must earn them by being engaged members of the community and successful in school. What’s more, it would not give preferential treatment to undocumented students, but would allow them to compete with other students for the financial aid.
These children are members of our community — they play on sports teams with our children and attend birthday parties in our homes. The question we must ask ourselves is, “What role will they play in the future of our communities and state?” Will we provide them the same opportunities as our children to earn a degree and be fully engaged members of our communities, or will we let them drift through life with no future aspirations and empty time on their hands to potentially cause trouble? The consequences of doing nothing may mean additional strain on social services and corrections.
This may not be an easy issue for people in our area to consider. Regardless of the past actions that led to undocumented students arriving in our state, we have the opportunity to affect their future and ours. Our state has the ability to change the outcome of their stories and give them the tools they need.
America is the land of opportunity, but success requires hard work. Adopting House Bill 1817 gives undocumented students a better chance to succeed through their hard work and commitment to our communities. We hope you will carefully consider supporting this proposal with us.
• Rep. Bruce Chandler represents the 15th Legislative District, and lives in Granger, where he raised his three grown children. Rep. Charles Ross represents the 14th Legislative District, and lives in Naches with his wife and two young children.