By Robert Berman in Opinion
While Washington, D.C. dukes it out over what to do about illegal immigrants, Washington state is already brightening the future for undocumented students.
The state legislature passed Senate Bill 6523, better known as the “Real Hope” Act last Tuesday. The bill offers financial aid for college to undocumented Washington residents. It defines an undocumented resident as someone who cannot prove that they are citizens. To qualify, students need only live in Washington for three years and have a high school diploma or equivalent from a Washington school.
It may not solve inequality for the children of undocumented immigrants, but it is a step in the right direction. To me, this bill is a no-brainer.
Opponents of the bill say it will give illegal immigrants incentive to bring their children to Washington to get educated on the taxpayer’s dollar.
“Right now, the taxpayers of the state are on the hook for the children of 6.6 million Washingtonians. If we pass this, they’re on the hook for the education of the kids of 7 billion people in the world,” Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, told The Associated Press last Wednesday.
However, there are only 550 undocumented students in Washington a year, wrote Rachel La Corte in the same article. If every one of those students attended Clark College in one year, they would only be 3.4 percent of Clark’s population. That is hardly a crushing burden for the taxpayers.
Yes, the United States does have a problem with illegal immigration. Pew Research estimated in 2013 that the United States houses 11.7 million undocumented residents. They said that number is still growing too.
But while national congress fights over immigration reform, keeping undocumented children from becoming productive members of society is counteractive.
One main argument against improving rights for illegal immigrants says that these residents would take resources from social programs, like unemployment benefits and Medicaid without contributing to the economy.
Improving access to higher education for undocumented residents would help to change that though. According to Pew Research, college graduates make an average $650,000 more in their lifetime than people without a college education. If the state gave unauthorized immigrants’ children a better chance to earn a degree, those students would contribute that much more to Washington’s economy.
Bills like this one could benefit states all over America. Peggy Sands Orchowski wrote for The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education that 1.1 million students in the U.S. could not access financial aid for college in 2011 because they were undocumented. Those are all students that could be potential taxpayers, future contributors to the economy, even future innovators.
No matter what draconian policies the United States enacts, there will always be undocumented children in our country. We might as well give them a chance to be productive members of society while they are here.
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