Washington State to Make Illegal Immigrants Eligible for Student Loans

March 4, 2020 Updated: March 4, 2020
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Lawmakers are working on a bill that would enable illegal immigrants in the state of Washington to have access to student loans for college.

Senate Bill 6561, originally sponsored by a group of 11 Democrats, aims to set up a student loan program for Washington’s illegal immigrants, including recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, who are not eligible for federal financial aid.

The new aid program, according to the latest version of the bill, is intended to offer “low-interest student loans that are competitive with federal student loan programs.” It is not expected to interfere with state funding or aid for students who have legal immigration status, as the program would be funded by public and private donations and grants. The state of Washington will match donations up to $2 million every two years.

The bill passed the Senate last month in a 34-14 vote and is now being reviewed in the Democrat-majority House of Representatives. If passed in the House and signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee, it would take effect on July 1, 2021.

The bill does not address the issue of whether the recipients, especially those who don’t have DACA, can repay their loans. The DACA program, created by the Obama administration in 2012, grants those who were illegally brought to the United States as children protection from deportation and renewable two-year work permits. Not having DACA usually means not having the ability to work to make student loan payments.

Meanwhile, those who have DACA are also at risk of losing their work authorization. In 2017, the Trump administration announced it would terminate DACA, and the Supreme Court is expected to decide by June 2020 on whether that decision was lawful. If the Supreme Court ruled that DACA should be terminated, DACA recipients might lose their jobs at the end of the two-year work permit, which could no longer be renewed.

Under current federal regulations, illegal immigrants, including DACA recipients, are not eligible for federal student aid. But they may still be eligible for state or college aid, in addition to private scholarships.

In 2014, the state of Washington enacted the Real Hope Act, allowing students who reside in the state to receive financial aid regardless of immigration status. Another bill passed in the same year allows DACA recipients to apply for need-based state grants if they meet certain criteria, including completion of the full senior year of high school or receiving a high school diploma or equivalent from a Washington high school.