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Redmond students witness Dream Act signing in Olympia
Four Redmond High School (RHS) students and one graduate didn’t want to miss out on the historic occasion in Olympia on Feb. 26.
At 2 p.m. in the state’s capitol building, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the Washington Dream Act into law. Students like RHS senior Alexis (last name withheld for privacy reasons), who arrived in the United States undocumented 10 years ago, are one step closer to becoming eligible for college financial aid.
“I really wanted to go because I really wanted to see that it was finally true,” said Alexis, 17, who traveled to Olympia as part of OneAmerica’s contingent. The Seattle nonprofit organization’s message is advancing “the fundamental principles of democracy and justice by building power within immigrant communities.”
Senate Bill 6523 passed the Washington State House of Representatives on Feb. 18 with a 75-22 bipartisan vote. The bill — which is the first to pass both chambers this legislative session — requires students to have lived in the state for at least three years and to have received a high school diploma in Washington state before receiving aid. California, New Mexico and Texas have passed similar bills to benefit students who arrived undocumented in the United States as children.
“I’m a ‘Dreamer’ and it affects me because it’s my last year here (at RHS), so I was planning to go to college right away,” Alexis said. “So now with the Dream Act passed, I have an opportunity to go to college and it would be way easier than without it. I have a lot of stress that’s going down.”
Inslee added in a press release: “The Dream Act represents a new future for many aspiring Washington students. While we’ve opened the doors of our colleges and universities to students from all walks of life, too many still face an insurmountable financial barrier. This bill ensures that the young men and women we’ve invested in at our high schools and who aspire to become productive American citizens will now have fair access to the financial support they need to turn their dreams into reality.”
Other “Dreamers” from Federal Way, Mount Vernon and Vancouver were also on hand for the signing, which also featured a mariachi band and many happy faces, said RHS junior Lety, who isn’t an illegal immigrant but attended the event to support Alexis. Rounding out the Redmond group were Jenni Martinez, Carlos Martinez and Martin (who along with Lety, also prefer that their last names be withheld for privacy reasons).
“There were a lot of emotions,” Lety said. “I feel like it’s a really important act, and I feel like it would be really helpful to friends around me.”
It was Lety’s first time attending an event in Olympia, and she credits Jenni Martinez for getting her involved in OneAmerica. Martinez attends copious state workshops and last November traveled to Washington, D.C. to help further the Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM).
Alexis arrived in Redmond from Guerrero, Mexico in 2004 with his older sister to live with their mother, who was staying here undocumented for two years. His dad wasn’t and still isn’t with the family.
Alexis began learning English as a third-grader at Redmond Elementary School, moved on to Redmond Junior High and is a few months away from becoming an RHS graduate.
Alexis’ dreams of going to college were seemingly dashed when his sister and cousins graduated from high school but were unable to afford to study at the next academic level.
“I started to give up hope,” said Alexis, noting that it was tough to watch his sister feel disappointment. “She gave up hope and just started working.”
Now that the Dream Act has passed, Alexis is looking at Washington State University as his next possible school and has studying business and economics on his docket. He enjoys creating desserts in the kitchen — especially chocolate mousse and cakes — and aspires to be a professional chef someday and open a restaurant.
His Dream Act experience has pushed him toward achieving his goals.
“It was really amazing going down to Olympia,” said Alexis, who also credits Jenni Martinez for getting him involved in supporting the Dream Act through OneAmerica. “It’s been really fun and I’ve learned so much — I’ve been putting my head into the project and just going at it.”
Rep. Zach Hudgins, D-Renton, the Dream Act’s chief House sponsor, said that when people work together, then they dream together and can do great things for the state.
Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, said the bill was flawed and could hurt the middle class.
He said state taxpayers now are responsible for paying for the education of 6.6 million Washingtonians; with the new bill, they’re responsible for the kids of 7 billion people in the world, he added.
Rich Stolz, executive director of OneAmerica, weighed in: “The large bipartisan majorities that supported the Dream Act in our House and Senate is in striking contrast to what we have seen in Congress lately. Washington legislature’s action is a testament to the power of organizing and the growing influence of the immigrant vote in Washington state.
“We hope that Republican leadership still struggling to bring comprehensive immigration reform up for a vote in Congress hears this message,” he added.
Also known as the Real Hope Act, the Dream Act appropriates $5 million from the general fund to pay for the financial-aid disbursements under the state need-grant program.
Elliot Suhr of the WNPA News Service contributed to this report.