PASCO -- Hundreds of aspiring doctors, chemists, lawyers and teachers may never reach their goal because they lack one thing -- legal citizenship.
Ricardo Sanchez, director of the Latino/a Educational Achievement Project (LEAP), told the Columbia Basin College board of trustees Monday that undocumented students, without enough money to pay tuition, are blocked from applying for state-funded financial aid for higher education.
He was at the meeting to ask the board to consider a resolution allowing Washington high school graduates who meet state low-income guidelines and are considered residents for purposes of higher education, the ability to receive financial aid through the State Need Grant program.
"In 2003, the Washington state Legislature passed House Bill 1079 giving undocumented students the right to pay tuition at in-state rates. This is just the rest of the equation," he said.
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"Thousands of dollars have been spent educating these students in grades K-12, and now they're being denied a chance at a higher education," Sanchez said.
He admitted that it is a tough issue in a difficult economy.
"But we're not asking for more money. We're just asking for these students to be included in the pool of those eligible," he said.
Sanchez was accompanied by six CBC students who spoke about the struggles they and their friends have had attempting to reach their dreams.
Stephanie Fuentes of Pasco told about a friend who discovered she was undocumented only after applying to attend CBC.
"She wants to be a lawyer, that's her goal. But without financial aid, she has to work one quarter, attend classes the next. We need to help her and others like her who are struggling to reach their potential," Fuentes said.
Christian Gonzalez of Othello has a friend who aspires to be a mathematics professor.
"He graduated from high school in 2011 with a 3.5 GPA. What he could contribute to society and the world is important. It would be an advantage to our economy, have an impact on our society and improve our nation to help students achieve their dreams," Gonzalez said.
Sanchez said this isn't just a Latino issue.
"It's about mainstream Americans stepping up to get this done," he said.
This idea isn't new. Sanchez tried to get a bill giving undocumented students access to financial aid through the 2009 legislative session.
"It didn't pass, and then the economy went sour," Sanchez said.
Even though the Legislature is facing daunting budget challenges this year, Sanchez decided to try again. He has been visiting as many school board meetings as possible, spreading the word and asking for support.
"This is too important an issue to drop. It would be tragic for the kids," Sanchez said. "As Martin Luther King said, it's always the right time to do right."
CBC Board President Renee Finke thanked the group for the information and said the board would take the issue under advisement.
For more information about LEAP, go to www.leapwa.org.
-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; firstname.lastname@example.org