by Michael Sarko
- The Capitol Hill Times -
The life of a piece of controversial legislation on the federal level is often a long and confusing one. Some acts, like the storied Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, have existed for decades without being passed or ratified. In some cases, individual states take up the mantle, and craft state-level versions of acts that the United States Congress can’t or won’t. This is the story of the DREAM Act, which Washington State legislators are soon expected to pass into law.
The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act first appeared in the U.S. Senate in 2001 under sponsoring senators Dick Durbin (D-Il.) and Orrin Hatch (R-Ut). The act floundered in the federal legislature for over a decade, adding and subtracting terms to its criteria, and coming close to passing several times. The federal DREAM Act has yet to be passed into law, but in the summer of 2012 President Barack Obama announced a policy change for his administration that lined up with many of the act’s provisions.
Boiled down to basics, the federal DREAM Act would temporarily defer the deportation of illegal immigrants for those who pursue a college education or military service. The exact eligible ages and particulars of this temporary citizenship status depend on the version of the act over the years. President Obama’s 2012 policy shift implemented a similar deportation deferment along with access to work permits for illegal immigrants under the age of 30, with the expectation that those who qualified would then seek legal immigration status and eventual naturalization.
Successful debate in the Washington State Senate last week paved the way for our state to join Texas, California, Illinois, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Maryland and Minnesota in having a state-specific version of the DREAM Act. The passage of the Washington Senate’s version of the act comes as something of a surprise, as the act had been tied up in the Higher Education Committee chaired by Republican State Senator Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor for the past year. By state Senate law, committees cannot bring a measure to vote without the consent of the chair or all co-chairs.
In the Senate vote for the Washington State Dream Act, soon after retitled “the Real Hope Act,” four Republican senators were absent, resulting in a final tally of 35 yea to 10 nay. Less contentiously, the Washington State House of Representatives passed its own version of the act handily on the first day of legislation in 2014, its final tally being 71 yea to 21 nay.
The Senate version of the act sends $5 million to the larger State Need Grant program to create financial aid for college students who were brought to Washington illegally as minors by their guardians. It’s expected that this money will provide tuition assistance for 1,100 students attending state universities in Washington. Current laws already allow non-citizen students without visas to pay in-state tuition rates as long as they can prove several years of residency. As there are only minor differences between the Senate and House versions of the act, a compromise bill is expected to arrive on Governor Jay Inslee’s desk soon.
In Washington, as in all states working on their own versions of the DREAM Act, Latino residents and advocacy groups have been some of the most vocal supporters of the act, as it impacts their community disproportionately. In the United States, more than 80 percent of deportation cases involve people of Latino origin, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Meanwhile, the National Center for Education Statistics shows a marked rise in the number of Latino youth who are enrolling in college.
Washington State’s Latino population is estimated at approximately 11 percent by recent census data. While most of Seattle doesn’t reflect that proportion, the southern end of Capitol Hill does. The most recent Seattle Census Tract shows that area consisting of between 9.2 and 11.5 percent Spanish-speaking household density.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who sponsored Washington’s DREAM Act when he was a state senator, applauded his former colleagues for passing the act, saying, “With the passage of the Dream Act, we have helped undocumented youth throughout Washington come closer to realizing the American Dream.”
The Washington House has not yet indicated when it will address the Senate’s bill. Governor Inslee, who has long supported the DREAM Act, is certain to sign the Real Hope Act into law as soon as the House brings it to the floor.