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Originally published Thursday, February 6, 2014 at 4:49 PM

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Guest: Help all students go to college with Real Hope Act

The state should pass the “Real Hope Act” to provide financial aid for college students who may have immigrated here illegally, writes guest columnist Pedro Celis.

Special to The Times

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IN 2003, Washington state approved a bill allowing students that graduated from a high school in our state, and were here for at least the last three years, to enroll in our state universities and colleges paying in-state tuition. These students, who may not have immigrated to the U.S. legally, were able to seek a college degree for the same cost as other resident students.

Similar bills have also been approved by 17 other states since then.

Our state Senate recently approved a bill called the “Real Hope Act” that allows these students to apply for State Need Grants. The grants help the state’s lowest-income students pursue degrees and seek job training.

This bill was sponsored by state Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, chairwoman of the Senate’s Higher Education Committee. It is different from the commonly called “Dream Act” because it actually provides money to make the program a reality. The House passed the Dream Act earlier this session, which calls for similar policy.

Now it is the state House’s turn to approve the version that includes funding.

The arguments in favor of this bill are similar to those from 2003.

These students are residents of this state regardless of their immigration statuses. They were not born in our state, but were raised here. They paid all the same taxes.

We already invested close to $11,000 per year for their high-school education. Additionally, by providing in-state tuition rates, we are already reducing their tuition fees by more than $10,000 per year.

Despite all the flaws in our public education system, they managed to graduate from high school and be admitted to our higher education institutions. They are champions and role models.

Hispanics are among the most affected by this issue. They represent more than 20 percent of the under-18 population in our state and less than 3 percent of the 60-and-over population. It is in our best interest to see that community flourish and prosper. Education is the great equalizer.

I came to this country as a computer-science professor at Indiana University in 1987. In my first year, I had the privilege to meet and speak with a group of incoming Latino freshman students and their parents in a preparation summer program.

That experience and many others since then have showed me that this is truly the land of opportunity. I urge our state House to give this new generation the opportunity to compete for State Need Grants.

The Washington State Real Hope Act only removes the state impediments for these students to apply for state grants. It does not remove the federal obstacles for them to receive the grant because applying for federal student aid and a Pell grant requires them or their parents to have a working Social Security number. It is up to the federal government to remove those obstacles.

It would be just a small step in the right direction.

Pedro Celis is a retired Microsoft Distinguished Engineer and former state and national chairman of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly.

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