A big bloc of Democrats—29—have signed on to the Washington state version of the DREAM Act, which allows children of undocumented parents to apply for state-based financial aid. Big surprise.
However, in an actual surprise, two Republicans have also signed on: Rep. Charles Ross (R-14, Naches) and Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-15, Granger).
One take: The issue hits too close to home for the two representatives. Ross’s 14th district covers half of Yakima (the other half is in Rep. Chandler's 15th district). As of 2011, 45.8 percent of Yakima County identified as Hispanic. It appears that the Republican Party’s “demographic problem” that got so much attention after Obama’s multicultural coalition surprised Romney in November (it’s actually a policy problem, but that’s another story) has Ross and Chandler in a bind.
Another take: The issue hits close to home, and they get it—honestly understanding the needs of their districts.
Our sense, after talking to Rep. Ross, 40, an up-and-coming Republican who’s fiscally conservative and highly rated by the NRA, is that it is, in fact, the latter. He gets it. (Chandler, likewise, was a passionate supporter of a landmark tuition rights bill for undocumented students in 2003.)
"I believe going to college is the best road to success, and removing barriers to state resources helps all students succeed."Republican Rep. Ross
Last August, President Obama granted “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” to undocumented residents ages 16 to 30 who graduate high school and don't have felony charges. DACAs grant them access to temporary work permits, and while it is not a pathway to citizenship (or a green card), it is a step forward for immigration reform that Washington State is using as a springboard for further reforms. According to the bill, sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-11, Tukwila), an undocumented student would be eligible for financial aid given that they qualify for “deferred action.”
Four other states have extended state-based financial aid to children of undocumented residents. The red state of Texas was the first, under Governor Rick Perry. California, Illinois and New Mexico followed suit.
We spoke with Representative Ross this week when we noticed his lonely Republican status on the long list of Democratic co-signers.
PubliCola: I saw that you and Rep. Chandler were the only Republicans to sign on to the bill, which is mainly sponsored by Democrats. Why did you decide to sign on to the bill?
Ross: Kids are kids. It’s important to me that we treat the kids of the state equally, and give them the opportunity to fulfill their potential. The bill is a response to a failed national policy. I can sit around all day and blame Congress, but I came to Olympia to solve problems. This is a reality for the state of Washington.
PubliCola: How would this bill benefit the constituents in your district and Rep. Chandler’s district, given that Yakima has a high Latino population?
Ross: The kids [in my district] are no different that the kids in other districts. For me, it’s not a political argument. I haven’t had a lot of dialogue [with Rep. Chandler], but we both believe it’s an important piece of legislation.
It’s already hard for eligible students who apply for financial aid to receive any help from the state because of limited funding. Some would argue that since receiving state-based grants is already competitive, passing this bill wouldn’t be fair to existing eligible students.
Granting financial aid would still be on the basis of merit and need. It puts kids on the same playing field, and allows them the same opportunities. The bill puts no one in front of the line. I believe going to college is the best road to success, and removing barriers to state resources helps all students succeed.
PubliCola: Is this where the Republican Party should be on immigration reform?
Ross: Again, it’s about kids being able to attend college. It’s not about party politics.
PubliCola: Was there any reaction from your caucus?
Ross: Not to my knowledge.