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State law lets undocumented immigrants get state financial aid for college

  • Written by Briana Gerdeman

Faride Cuevas works more than 40 hours per week doing consulting, data entry and as a summer camp counselor. Ray Corona waited tables full-time until he got a job as a student worker on campus. Maria Cortes works 20 to 40 hours per week as a host and coach at a sports facility.

The three University of Washington Bothell students paid for their education through private scholarships and by working. As undocumented immigrants, they weren’t eligible for state financial aid.

“That pressure I felt is huge,” said Cortes, a community psychology major with a minor in education and society. “It was an incredibly tough balance for me to go to school full-time and keep up grades and also work.”

Dream Act

That changed last week, when Governor Jay Inslee signed the Real Hope Act into law. The Real Hope Act will let undocumented immigrants apply for state need-based financial aid.

The Act also provides an additional $5 million, which would serve about 1,200 students, to the current pool of college aid, said Rachelle Sharpe, senior director for financial aid and support services for the Washington Student Achievement Council.

The Real Hope Act will go into effect on June 11 — 90 days after the state legislature adjourns.
To qualify for state aid under the Real Hope Act, undocumented immigrants must also qualify for deferred action for childhood arrivals (DACA), a federal program that applies to people whose parents brought them to the U.S illegally as children, and who have pursued education or military service. It gives those immigrants a two-year permit to work in the U.S. and a reprieve from removal proceedings.

Because students must have DACA status to get state financial aid through the Real Hope Act, it means they can be eligible to work after they graduate from college, if they renew their DACA status.

“When you’re interacting with these students, it’s so clear that this is going to be a win-win for our community,” said Jorge Barón, executive director of the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. “Students will benefit our community through their education.”

For example, Cuevas, a junior studying business at UW Bothell, wants to be able to provide for her 15-year-old twin sisters and her parents. She wants a career that will let her help the community, such as corporate social responsibility or education policy.

“It’s going to definitely take a lot of stress off me,” she said of the Real Hope Act. “Every quarter, around midterms, that’s when you start thinking, ‘How am I going to pay for next quarter?’ You can’t just think about midterms.”

Corona, who became an admissions advisor at UW Bothell after graduating from the school, had a similar story. In fact, he took a quarter off because he felt discouraged that he wouldn’t be able to use his degree after he graduated.

“‘What am I going to do after college? I’m going to have a degree, but I don’t have a work permit,’” he remembers thinking. He recalls, “It was such a struggle for me to get through school...there was always a sense of urgency.”

He has been advocating for the Real Hope Act, and similar bills such as Washington’s DREAM Act, since 2009, when he was a senior in high school. He and other students organized the Washington DREAM Act Coalition to lobby representatives and senators, and give ideas to solve the problems facing undocumented students.

Now, as an admissions advisor, Corona expects UW Bothell will see an increase in applications. He knows the university receives lots of applications from undocumented immigrants, but “those students don’t make it to campus,” he said.

“The state need grant wouldn’t cover everything, of course, but it would allow them to worry about a lesser amount,” Corona said.

The state need grant covers up to about $10,900 per year toward tuition at a public research university, according to the Washington Student Achievement Council website. Corona said UW Bothell’s tuition is about $12,000 per year.

State aid is important because even immigrants who have DACA status, which gives them permission to work, can’t get federal financial aid, Barón said. But, he said, “this is a step in the right direction. I don’t want people to think this is enough.”

He wants to see undocumented immigrants have access to federal financial aid, and permanent opportunities to live and work in the U.S.

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Photo courtesy of OneAmerica. Governor Jay Inslee signs the Real Hope Act into law last Wednesday. The law will let undocumented immigrants apply for state need-based financial aid for college.

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