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Youth & Education

Democratic lawmakers want to create a loan program for undocumented students

Marko Liias, a Democratic state senator whose district includes parts of Edmonds, Everett and Lynnwood, is the lead sponsor of a bill to create a state-run loan program for undocumented students.
Ted S. Warren
/
The Associated Press
Marko Liias, a Democratic state senator whose district includes parts of Edmonds, Everett and Lynnwood, is the lead sponsor of a bill to create a state-run loan program for undocumented students.

A bill under consideration in the Legislature would open another avenue for financial aid for immigrant students in Washington who lack legal status.

The bill, which is sponsored by a group of 11 Democratic senators, would create a low-interest student loan program for undocumented immigrants who are residents of the state. Students who lack legal status in the U.S. have access to some state financial aid, including the Washington College Grant. But they are not allowed to take out federal student loans or receive other federal financial aid, such as Pell grants.

“This is a way that undocumented students are really saying to the state Legislature – they’re not asking for a handout, they’re asking for us to just level the playing field the same way that citizens of the U.S. have access to these subsidized and unsubsidized loans,” Guillermo Rogel, executive director of the Washington Student Association, told lawmakers during a public hearing.

Undocumented students told legislators that even with access to some scholarships, it’s difficult to pay for textbooks, rent and other living expenses because they can’t take out student loans. Many said they grew up in families struggling to make ends meet and are the first in their families to go to college.

“Being that I’m undocumented without DACA (the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program), I can’t get work study, so being able to get these loans will honestly help a lot because my parents are agricultural workers,” said one woman who gave only her first name, Alondra. She said she’s a freshman at Washington State University.

Alondra, who said she’s lived in the U.S. since she was three months old, said she’s majoring in psychology.

“I hope one day to be able to help other minority youth with their mental health and to be able to do that I need to achieve a master’s and go to graduate school,” she said.

No one spoke in opposition to the bill, but it’s likely to face tough questions from some Republican lawmakers. The bill is currently under consideration in the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee.

Other states that allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid include California, New Mexico and New York. But some states have gone in an opposite direction. Alabama and South Carolina have prohibited undocumented students from enrolling in any public postsecondary institution, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.