First-term Latina legislator continues legacy of Washington Republicans fighting for Dreamers
Nearly a decade after the Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus unveiled its REAL Hope Act to support education opportunities for Washington’s “Dreamers” – people who were brought into the United States illegally as minors – state Sen. Nikki Torres has rolled out a duo of bills intended to better serve them.
“When we talk about Dreamers, we are not talking about strangers,” said Torres, R-Pasco. “These are people who went to school with our children. They played on the same softball teams, attended the same church services, and volunteered at the same food kitchens and shelters.
“These are bright kids, who are American in every sense of the word, except on paper. And that is no fault of their own.
“We owe it not only to them, but to ourselves, to make sure their talents are not wasted, and they have access to the same American Dream as others.”
Torres has introduced two bills this session to address concerns she has about Dreamers’ access to information and resources.
Senate Bill 5631 would require state agencies to clearly identify programs and services that accept applicants with federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) status.
“This information may be warehoused on some government website, somewhere, but why not include it in an easily accessible location on the website of the relevant agency?” Torres asked. “If a DACA-eligible individual is looking for the requirements to obtain a driver’s license, the relevant information should be on the Department of Licensing website.”
Senate Bill 5655 would create the Washington Achievers Grant Program. The program, which under the bill would be administered by the Student Achievement Council, would be a matching grant program to expand access for resident students to federal TRIO programs at institutions of higher education. The program would be designed to leverage state appropriations to grow capacity in existing federal TRIO programs for otherwise eligible students who are currently ineligible to participate in a federal TRIO program due to immigration status.
The Federal TRIO Programs are educational opportunity outreach programs designed to “motivate and support students from disadvantaged backgrounds.”
Torres said no one should be surprised to see a Republican sponsoring bills to support DACA-eligible Dreamers, pointing to the history of support for Dreamers in Washington.
“When in the majority, Senate Republicans let the way towards giving Dreamers real hope,” said Torres, referring the Republican-led passage of the Real Hope Act in 2014. Senate Bill 6523, signed by Gov. Jay Inslee in February 2014, provided $5 million for college financial aid programs for Dreamers – enough to finance college-need grants for some 800 to 1,200 students. The measure was adopted with broad bipartisan support after similar, but unfunded, proposals from House Democrats failed in 2012 and 2013.
“Many of my Republican colleagues and I are from rural central Washington districts,” said Torres. “We know these are good people, deserving of hope and opportunity, because we know them. They are our neighbors, friends and family.”
SB 5566 is currently before the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee. SB 5631 has been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate State Government and Elections Committee on Feb. 7. The bills must receive approval from the respective committees no later than Feb. 17 to remain viable during the 2023 legislative session.