Our Voice: Providing 'Real Hope' right move for state Legislature

The state Senate last week passed the "Real Hope Act," which would make students brought here illegally as children eligible for financial aid if they meet certain criteria.

Washington lawmakers granted undocumented students access to in-state tuition in 2003, but allowing them to compete for financial aid has been a tough sell, and for good reason -- there simply isn't enough money to help every deserving student pay for college.

About 74,000 students currently receive State Need Grants, and an additional 32,000 eligible students were turned away last year because of a lack of funding.

The measure that passed Jan. 31 includes a $5 million appropriation, enough money to pay for 1,100 additional grants -- far short of even the current need but enough to cover the estimated 800 to 1,000 students who would qualify under the act.

Parents of children born in Washington who can't afford college or get state aid make a strong case for their needs taking precedence over newcomers.

But many of the children brought here illegally have lived in Washington since infancy. Many don't discover their illegal status until after they graduate from high school. It's inaccurate to think of them as outsiders.

"These are our children ... they are the students I coached on my son's basketball team; they are the students I watched on my daughter's soccer team; they are the future of my community," said Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Sunnyside.

It's a matter of simple fairness to treat these kids like the state's other children. They had no say in whether to come here. It's wrong to punish them for their parents' actions.

What's more, the "Real Hope Act," and the House version, called the "Dream Act," require kids to earn a high school diploma in the state, stay out of trouble and meet a minimum three-year Washington residency requirement.

We've already made a substantial investment in shaping these kids into good citizens. In many cases, they've attended public schools at the state's expense since kindergarten.

It hasn't been a free ride. Their parents work, often in some of the toughest, lowest-paying jobs available. And they pay taxes.

To squander the potential contributions these kids can make to Washington's future because of their parents' actions doesn't make economic sense.

The House and Senate bills making financial aid available to qualified illegal immigrants received widespread bipartisan support.

The reason so many across the political spectrum support the legislation is simple -- helping these kids is right for them and right for the state.