Keep the ‘Dream Act’ alive

Even in the post-Lenten season, resurrection is possible. Let’s hope that’s the case with the Washington Dream Act, a bipartisan proposal that would make undocumented — but on the road to citizenship — Washington high-school grads eligible for the state’s need grant.

Some Washingtonians may cringe, picturing visa-less scofflaws fresh off the schooner from Oslo cutting ahead of low-income locals. Fear not, dear cringers. Those scofflaw Norwegians need not apply. The Dream Act only extends to Northwest students, many brought to the United States as toddlers, who are already woven into Washington’s community and social fabric. The bill piggybacks on President Obama’s 2012 executive order which created the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. It’s an out-of-the-shadows path to education, to legal employment, to giving back.

“These students grew up here, went to school here and paid taxes here, and we want them to be able to succeed here,” state Sen. Ed Murray said. “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.”

Thankfully, the proposal, House Bill 1817, has not been a partisan football. It was enthusiastically supported by Republicans and Democrats, passing the house 77-20. HB 1817 was given a hearing on March 28, but its fate rested with the Higher Ed Committee Chair, Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, to schedule a vote.

Wednesday was the deadline for passing non-budget policy bills out of committee. The deadline came and went.

As The Herald’s Jerry Cornfield reports, Bailey said the bill was not fiscally tenable. “By extending state financial aid to undocumented students, it could add an additional 800 eligible students to the already underfunded program,” Bailey wrote in an op-ed for Washington Focus.

On Wednesday, the Senate majority, of which Bailey is a member, budgeted $19.4 million to expand the state’s need grant. It’s not funding that’s the obstacle. Both of Bailey’s Republican seatmates, Reps. Norma Smith and Dave Hayes, voted in support of the bill.

We encourage Bailey to revisit the Dream Act, penciling out the benefits of a college education for citizens-to-be. A RAND report notes that a female Mexican immigrant with a college degree pays $5300 annually more in taxes and costs $3900 less in government expenses than a high-school dropout. The sensible math prompted the business community to join higher-ed boosters and both parties and embrace HB 1817.

We hope that in their horse-trading fury, legislative negotiators write the Dream Act into the final budget.

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