Some college students qualify for the State Need Grant. Eastern Washington University junior Francisco Navarro isn’t one of them. He’s an illegal immigrant.
Navarro testified in front of the Senate Higher Education Committee Thursday. He came to speak in support of the Washington State Dream Act. The proposal, formally known as House Bill 1817, would allow some illegal immigrants to qualify for the college State Need Grant. In order to apply for the grant, the student would need to have a special immigration status provided under a 2012 Obama plan.
Navarro said he’s lucky. He said scholarships from Microsoft and Google have enabled him to stay in college this year. He said he had to drop out for two quarters last year because he didn’t have enough money to pay for school, as undocumented students aren’t eligible for federal student loans.
Navarro said the scholarships included trips to the company’s headquarters.
“It was just unbelievable to have been working in the fields just a couple of months before picking apples and cherries, and then to be in the headquarters of the world’s most important companies,” Navarro said.
Navarro said he supports the Dream Act even though he won’t be able to use it. He said his scholarships are enough to cover the rest of his computer science degree. Instead, he said he supports it because it makes sense.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Navarro said. “The investment in these students is going to pay off within the next 10 years. These are the next engineers, the next architects, and the next professionals.”
Not everyone at the hearing shared Navarro’s enthusiasm for the proposal. Unlike the House hearing on the bill, Thursday’s Senate hearing drew opponents.
Yakima resident, Bob West, came to testify against the measure.
“This bill is not fair to citizens of this country or to most legal immigrants,” West said. “Because if passed, they would have to compete with students here illegally.”
According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, the grant program is already underfunded. Last year, more than 29 percent of the 106,000 students who applied for the grant were denied due to lack of funding.
West said that the bill will also act as a magnet for others.
“This will end up just encouraging more immigrants to break into our country illegally,” West said.
West’s sentiments were shared by virtually all of those who spoke in opposition to the bill – a group that made up half of the hearings presenters, but a much smaller fraction of those in attendance.
In addition to the opposition the bill faces in the public arena, it has a rough road ahead of it politically as well. The committee is chaired by Oak Harbor Republican, Sen. Barbara Bailey. Bailey had previously said she wasn’t even sure the bill would get a hearing, let alone get a vote.
The bill passed the House earlier this month with a 77-20 vote. It is sponsored by Democratic Rep. Zack Hudgins, D-Tukwila.