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WA: Bill: Financial Aid to Illegal Immigrant Students
The Associated Press State & Local Wire, February 12, 2009
By Manuel Valdes

Against advice, Luis Ortega and Manuel Garcia gave their full names to a committee of lawmakers when they testified Wednesday in favor of a bill that would make illegal immigrant students eligible for state financial aid for college.

Ortega and Garcia are both illegal immigrants, brought to the United States when they were kids by their parents. They were advised not give their full names to protect themselves from deportation. But they were two of a half dozen students who came forward and spoke openly.

"We're not asking for a free pass, all I'm asking for is sharing with you the American dream," Ortega, an 18-year-old University of Washington student, told lawmakers in the House Higher Education Committee.

Under a bill being considered here, students like Ortega and Garcia would be eligible for the state's main financial aid program. The proposal would expand the state needs grant program, which provided around $182 million in financial aid for 72,000 students in fiscal year 2008.

The proposal comes at a time when hostile feelings toward illegal immigration and even legal immigration are heightened in a deeply troubled economy, and as the federal government continues a crackdown on illegal immigration, breaking records for deportations.

Several people spoke against the bill, echoing many well-known arguments, saying that illegal immigrants cost the American economy, and that lawmakers should be worried about providing education to Americans.

"Why reward those who are here illegally?" asked Bob West, a member of Grassroots of Yakima Valley. "Provide benefits only for U.S. citizens ... Those of you who are still supporting this bill ... I want to know what you're going to tell those students who are U.S. citizens 'I'm sorry we gave your money to other people who were here illegally?' "

It's unclear how many illegal immigrant students there are in Washington, said Ricardo Sanchez, chairman of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project, the chief advocacy group lobbying for the bill. He said that about 500 such students are currently in colleges around the state, and if the bill were to pass, he would expect the number to increase. In 2003, lawmakers approved a measure that made illegal immigrant students eligible for in-state tuition for universities.

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center study, more than 300,000 illegal immigrants reside in Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

State Rep. Dave Quall, a Democrat from Mount Vernon who sponsored this bill, said many of these students are moved to the United States by their parents at a young age, are groomed in the American education system, and that it wouldn't be right to deny them a chance at a college education.

"I think it's a good investment to keep these talented kids, so they have a hopeful future," Quall said. At a news conference before the hearing, Quall was emotional, teary-eyed as he described hostile reactions from people around the state to his proposal.

Around the country, 10 states, including Washington, have approved legislation making illegal immigrant students eligible for in-state tuition rates for college, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"What is truly astounding is that the state, which is facing a fiscal crisis, and the state university system, which is in crisis and cutting programs left and right, is considering devoting resources to benefit people who have no legal right to even be in the country," said Ira Mehlman of the Washington, D.C.-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.

Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, said he supported the measure, but that the issue is a sticky subject for lawmakers from agricultural areas in particular Republicans who may be bucking party trends.

"I really don't like illegals coming here, but when their parents bring them here when they're 1 and 2 and 3 years old, and they're in our...

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