OLYMPIA — Students who are undocumented immigrants may soon find it easier to finance their higher education with a proposal working its way through the state legislature.
Senate Bill 6561, now under consideration in the House, establishes a student loan program for undocumented immigrants, including DACA recipients, who are not currently eligible to receive federal financial aid.
“We know that our undocumented students want to pursue the same opportunities,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, the bill’s primary sponsor.
“One big barrier that still exists is a lack of access to student loans,” he said.
Several students who testified in support of the bill expressed the stress they’ve experienced trying to pay for their education.
“I am undocumented and I do not have DACA. I arrived at this country when I was three months old, so this country’s all I know, and I don’t know anything else,” said Alondra Munoz, a student and representative of Undocumented Inititatives, at an earlier hearing.
“Being that I am undocumented and without DACA, I can’t get work-study, so being able to get these loans will honestly help a lot,” Munoz said.
Though DACA recipients are still able to renew their status, the potential ending of the program is concerning to many Washington state residents.
According to the American Immigration Council, almost 20,000 Washington state residents applied for DACA in 2016. DACA applicants must have been in the U.S. before turning 16 and continuously living in the country since June 15, 2007, according to the National Immigration Law Center.
“I don’t know where to turn to,” said Litzy Canales, a high school senior at Edmonds Woodway High School. “This is where this program would step in and help me start my career.”
“Every time we do something like this, it’s like a finger in the dike,” said Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, in opposition to the bill at an earlier debate.
“We pick another small part or another part that has problems with access to this, or another group that might be disenfranchised. Every time you do this, you move the window of unavailability to higher education.”
SB 6561 was passed by the Senate Tuesday, Feb. 18, and is currently being heard in the House. If passed, it will be effective starting July 1, 2021.