When Jessica Esparza heard the news, she was shocked. She wasn’t alone. Others were taken aback as well because no one expected it to happen. What happened was a landmark vote by the Washington Senate, 35-10, resulting in the passage of SB 6523, a measure the Republican-led Senate Majority Caucus Coalition calls the Real Hope Act. It is similar to the Dream Act bill that was approved in the House. The Senate bill provides public college financial aid for children of undocumented immigrants, kids known as DREAMers, kids like Jessica Esparza.
Jessica is 20 and a student in the nursing program at Big Bend Community College in Moses Lake. She was 11 when she left Mexico and settled with her family in Quincy. She knew nothing about immigration laws or being undocumented. She was a kid who was trying to deal with life in a new country and literally fighting off girls who bullied her because she didn’t speak English. Jessica persevered becoming one of the top students in her high school class. She had a chance to attend the University of Washington, but her undocumented status prohibited her from receiving state or federal financial aid. Her dream of becoming a registered nurse and returning to her community to help others seemed like a long shot.
Supporters of a state Dream Act to provide financial aid for kids like Jessica have been trying to get it approved by the legislature for years. The Democrat dominated state House passed it on the first day of this year’s legislative session but no one expected it to come up for a vote in the Republican controlled Senate. The Washington State Wire has an excellent article about the behind the scenes interactions that led up to the vote finally happening and how the Senate bill became the Real Hope Act. Here’s a link to the story: http://washingtonstatewire.com/blog/senate-takes-landmark-vote-for-dream-act-or-as-majority-caucus-calls-it-real-hope-for-immigrant-children/. There was a lot of political maneuvering and personal soul searching especially for the Republican leadership. The Senate measure goes to the House where it is expected to be approved.
Now, let’s go back to Jessica Esparza, one of an estimated 35 thousand DREAMers in the state of Washington. We met last year when she received a $5000 Latino Educational Achievement Project Scholarship to pursue her nursing dream. Her story was featured in Latinos: The Changing Face of Washington, a documentary I produced for KCTS Television. Here’s a YouTube link to the segment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PWJFowO1u4
And here is what Jessica had to say about the Real Hope Act and what it means to her and her younger sister, also a DREAMer:
It will benefit me by helping to finance the next year at Big Bend Community College to earn my associate’s degree in nursing and then help me finance my bachelor’s in nursing. Finding and applying for scholarships that will help me finance my school is always a struggle. The uncertainty, if I will receive funding once again, is always present. Being able to receive financial aid will take weight off my shoulders. For the past two summers I have worked at least three jobs to make sure I have enough money to pay for any books, transportation, and living expenses.
When I heard that the bill passed I was completely shocked! Many students like me have waited for this moment to happen. I am really happy and thankful that all the hard-work that many have put into this has finally worked. My sister does not fully understand the concept of it as she is barely a seven grader but it will benefit her as well as she pursues a higher education. Her plan right now is to attend the University of Washington to earn a biology degree. This bill will make her path to a college education much smoother than what it was for me.
Politics divides us a lot these days. Sometimes, the divide is narrowed, compromise is reached and things actually get done. It doesn’t happen often enough. For now, Jessica Esparza and her fellow DREAMers have something to celebrate. There is real hope their dreams will have a chance to come true.