Many conservatives support the REAL Hope Act

Anytime a topic in Olympia involves the hot-button issue of immigration, legislators hear from passionate advocates with various views who are sure they know the best way forward. Complicating these debates over state issues involving immigration is the fact that the federal government controls overall immigration policy.

Consequently, even though the state may be merely reacting to a situation over which it has little direct influence, the debates often still center on talking points from the federal fight. We saw that happen again during the recent legislative debate over the DREAM Act/REAL Hope Act, a just-passed law that makes undocumented immigrant children eligible for state need scholarships.

It was gratifying to see the state legislature come together to pass the REAL Hope Act. Some were surprised to see on this website that I supported the bill, yet I’ve long believed that it makes little sense to hold back students from attaining a higher education because of actions their parents took. We want all young people to be able to contribute to society, and higher education is an essential step to achieving that goal.

In addition to not punishing students for their parents’ decisions, I believe that two practical considerations make the REAL Hope Act smart policy.

  1. Under our state constitution, all children who reside in Washington are eligible for public education through high school. If undocumented students go on to a post-secondary education, our state receives additional value from the public education dollars expended. New options (for some of them, perhaps the only option) for them to attend college maximize the state’s investment in education.
  2. We want all students working hard to learn and achieve. Students who believe that they will not have the opportunity to move on to college are much less likely to strive in middle and high school.
  3. Republicans and Democrats came together to pass this bill (by a 35-10 vote in the Senate and a 75-22 vote in the House) because it’s good policy and because it fits with the hopeful spirit that we call the American Dream. Sen. Tim Sheldon, a Democrat and member of the Senate Majority Coalition, penned an excellent column in which he described reaching back to his family’s immigrant aspirations as his personal inspiration to vote aye. It’s worth a read.

— Rob McKenna


Why would a conservative vote for the Real Hope Act?
By Sen. Tim Sheldon

The state Senate recently approved a measure that would extend state financial-aid eligibility to undocumented Washington students. I was one of 35 bipartisan votes in favor of the bill; many of you have questioned why a self-proclaimed conservative would vote in such a way.

My maternal grandparents came to this country from Sweden in the early 1900s – without documentation. Neither spoke English at the time; my grandfather made a living in the woods as a choker setter and my grandmother as a domestic worker.

Their desire for a better quality of life produced a legacy of determination and hard work in my family. Their two daughters went on to graduate from the University of Washington because luckily, we don’t live in a country that punishes children for their parents’ indiscretions.

In America, we don’t take away children’s freedoms because they weren’t born here; we don’t withhold food or shelter or their chance to thrive. I am glad that we live in a country that encourages children to flourish, regardless of legal status.

I’m not excusing the actions of those who are here illegally. I hope all undocumented residents work to obtain citizenship, and I hope the federal government continues to work on immigration reform to make the path to citizenship more attainable. Our hands are tied in Olympia because only Congress can make laws regarding immigration, while the state can only address limited issues such as financial aid and eligibility standards.

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.