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The federal government must address immigration reform and not leave states to deal with this situation on their own.

Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-10For several years now, the Washington State Legislature has been faced with decisions regarding the growing number of undocumented students in our state. The most recent debate in our Legislature is whether or not to let undocumented students apply for our state’s main financial-aid program for low-income students, otherwise known as the State Need Grant.

I want to give you the facts about this complex issue, which has become an emotionally-charged topic and as a result, is often described with a distorted version of reality.

Federal law instructs all states to provide all students with K-12 public education, regardless of a student’s immigration status.  However, individual states have the authority to decide eligibility rights beyond high school education for undocumented students.

In 2003, Washington extended in-state tuition rates to non-citizen students. To this day, Washington is one of only 12 states to offer this privilege, which saves undocumented students nearly half of tuition costs compared to out-of-state tuition. Meanwhile, some states have completely denied undocumented students access to public post-secondary institutions.

The State Need Grant (SNG) has helped thousands of Washington students pursue a higher education. During the 2011-12 academic year, over 74,000 citizen students received financial assistance by the SNG; however, like most of the state-supported programs, the SNG was also impacted by a struggling economy and budget cuts, and consequently, over 32,000 eligible students went unserved.

By extending state financial aid to undocumented students, it could add an additional 800 eligible students to the already underfunded program.

The bill in question, House Bill 1817, which recently received a hearing in the Senate Higher Education Committee, is sometimes referred to as the “state Dream Act” in reference to the federal executive order, a program for undocumented students.

I think the state’s financial assistance program needs to be looked at more closely before eligibility is extended to a new group. In order to set good policy, we need to spend more time studying the issue and evaluating the future financial impact.

State government has a bad habit of promising many things, but delivering few. It would be disingenuous for us to make an unfunded promise that can’t be kept.

As a state still recovering from an economic recession, Washington needs to be realistic about available dollars, and fund programs accordingly and responsibly to ensure that we are a state that does what we say we are going to do.

Living in our country offers great freedoms and residency provides great privilege to all. With great freedom and privilege also comes great responsibility.

As the undocumented population continues to grow, our country must address immigration reforms. States should not be left to deal with this situation on their own. Congress must act now and pave the way to citizenship for the many undocumented residents who call America home.

Sen. Barbara Bailey is chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee in the Washington State Senate. She represents the 10th Legislative District and is serving her first term in the state Senate after serving 10 years in the state House of Representatives.

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  1. Dave Ridgley says:

    Here’s a solution if you’re concerned about an unfunded promise: fund it. If education is indeed a priority. These young students deserve more than a lecture on responsibility and fiscal belt-tightening, they deserve a shot at higher education along with everyone else we’ve invested in for K-12 public education. I’m certain there’s a lot fewer priorities being funded in Olympia than the promise of higher education, followed by full contribution to our state.

  2. Sen. Bailey’s ill informed handlers,
    How can you focus on services for “illegal” aliens when our Veterans are suffering at the very same moment. The good Senator needs a kick in the butt with a combat boot when it comes to her priorities. It is obvious to all that our underserved citizens don’t offer the political clout as that of our newly arrived immigrant population, but I question the manner in which we hold to our laws and ideals in the face these obvious and deep failures opting for political gain. The Senator should be ashamed and this won’t stand.


    Disheartened patriot,
    Mathew C. Martin

  3. Chuck says:

    Do these idiots realize you cannot have a first world country with a third world population? It is not land that makes a country great but the people who populate that land. America is based on the original citizens and has continued to go downhill with every wave of third world trash that is allowed across our borders.

  4. Krista Holmes says:

    Not sure what can be done if the funds aren’t there to support the program. That being said, students should not be punished or denied an education because we as a community cannot figure out our immigration policy. Many of the undocumented families that are here WANT to work, WANT to be citizens, WANT to pay taxes and WANT to contribute to better our communities, unlike the legal citizens I see daily standing on the corner asking for a handout. Many of the illegal citizens are here and are going to stay and more than likely be citizens hopefully sooner than later. Why wouldn’t we want to help them get a better education so they will be even better citizens when they get to that point, depriving them of an education puts them on a track for needing financial assistance later in life when they cannot find a good paying job. We have to invest in the people of our future, like it or not, these people are our future. Personally I like people that WANT to work, WANT to contribute to a better society and I like that they want to do it here!

  5. Leon says:

    Senator Bailey,

    I am more than a little disappointed with your statement that the feds should take action to give amnesty to illegal aliens living in our country and put them on a path to U.S. citizenship. What happened to the Rule of Law that we are supposed to live by and the both our state and federal governments require citizens to abide by, but they want to reward an illegal alien with the prized U.S. citizenship.
    Move to any other country illegally and see if you get amnesty there and/or citizenship. Many countries would put you in jail for years for violating their immigration laws. Positively NO AMNESTY AND NO CITIZENSHIP FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS.

  6. Lorie Lucky says:

    As the daughter and granddaughter of orchardists in Eastern Washington I am extremely disturbed by Senator Bailey’s comments. Much of the most demanding and low-paid physical labor in our state is being balanced on the back of undocumented workers. If any child of those workers qualifies to attend college, we would all be better off if we did everything possible to enhance their opportunities for higher education. Those kids are our future, right?

    This state has plenty of money – the problem is it just doesn’t collect it. The rich move here as though Washington State represents the Cayman Islands of USA….without a state income tax the 1% purchases a home here, calls it their legal residence, and then spends 75% of their time elsewhere, avoiding other states’ income tax laws. It is not particularly difficult to find, perhaps, 1 out of every 8 homes in wealthy residential districts empty for the greater part of the year as their owners pursue their (tax-free) lives elsewhere. A state income tax for at least the top 2% of Washington’s earners would fully fund our education needs.

    What’s happened here is disgusting – I drive to work looking at Mercer Island, where many of the waterfront homes look like hotels, not houses. Look at Medina, Washington Park in Seattle, Eagle Rock in Wenatchee, the lip of the Columbia Basin hanging above East Wenatchee, the foothills of Yakima, the hillsides outside of Sequim, etc. The 1% are here in abundance, but rarely does State government stop pandering to them and ask them to pony up their share. Seattle is about to pony up $200+ million for a new basketball arena, and yet we can’t find, say, an extra $200,000 for 800 new needy college students? GET A GRIP!

  7. BSmith says:

    Why is the undocumented population “continuing to grow”? I thought the Obama administration was enforcing border security and that the recession had slowed illegal immigration to a trickle? Are we being lied to once again by the media and the politicians about what is really going on?

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