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Not all Republicans 'Dream Act' advocates

Reflecting the split among Republicans in Olympia, local members of the party, too, are divided over HB 1817, known as the "Washington Dream Act."

Last week the bill passed the House 77-20 (with Republicans voting 22 in favor and 20 against).

If approved, it would grant illegal residents in this state the opportunity to seek state need grants or scholarships for college.

Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger) was one of the bill's sponsors and one of 22 Republicans to vote for the bill.

"The main thing here is I believe that every student who graduates from a Washington high school should be treated the same," Chandler told the Daily Sun News. "These are students who came to the state as children. They didn't choose to be here. If they are undocumented it is through no fault of their own."

He adds that these students have established lives here in the U.S. and will be in our communities for years to come.

"So the real question is, do we want them to participate in the life of the community and have a chance to be successful members of the community or are we going to say they have to live on the fringes?" Chandler said. "I think the best course is for them to have an opportunity to get an education, be able to work and support themselves and their families."

Chad Werkhoven lives and works in Sunnyside and serves as a precinct committee officer for the Republican party. He is sympathetic, but disagrees with HB 1817.

"These kids' stories are truly heartbreaking, and the efforts made to overcome the difficulties facing them are impressive, but the fact of the matter is that they are breaking the law by being here," Werkhoven says. "Education, especially higher education, is a limited resource. Extending these benefits to those here illegally limits benefits available to deserving legal residents."

In supporting HB 1817, Chandler has pledged the House will add "significantly" more dollars to the pool of funds available for state need grants.

"I think that it's possible from existing revenues to make progress towards meeting the demand," Chandler says of providing college grant funds for more high school students.

He further contends the bill is not an entitlement program.

"Under the bill they only have the opportunity to apply and compete with everyone else," Chandler says. "They won't take someone else's place."

Statewide, he says the bill would only apply to 500 or 600 high school graduates who are here illegally. Further, Chandler notes those seeking the need grants must have attended high school in this state for at least three years and graduate from a high school in Washington. They also have to sign an affidavit committing to seeking citizenship in this country, he adds.

Laurie Beltman is also from the Lower Valley, a precinct committee officer and active with the Sunnyview Republican Women's Club.

She sides with Chandler on the issue.

"He may take some flak for this, but I like Bruce, I've always supported him," Beltman said.

"These kids have graduated high school and as an employer it's frustrating to have kids we can't employ because they don't have a green card."

Beltman also served as an adjunct business professor at Heritage University, and has seen first-hand the troubles students have had because of their undocumented status.

"I just feel they really are here by no choice of their own," she says. "It's a real unique situation for them and I've always felt we needed to address that situation."

Otherwise, she feels the students will face limited education options and that might harm their future job prospects.

"It limits employment opportunities for kids who would otherwise be employed," Beltman said.

Werkhoven's belief is that lawmakers should actually take a big picture approach to help children brought here illegally.

"The problem with legislation like the DREAM Act is that it kicks the can farther down the road rather than helping to solve the more difficult and pressing problem," he says. "If we really want to help these kids succeed, we need to work on providing a streamlined path to legal citizenship rather than divvying out the benefits of citizenship in a piecemeal manner."

The "Washington Dream Act" was sent over to the Senate last Friday for consideration.

Chandler says the bill will first go to a Senate committee. Since the Senate leadership is a coalition of Republicans and Democrats, he'll likely need help from his own party to see HB 1817 become law.

"I've been talking with Senate leadership and they're taking a close look at it," Chandler says. "I'm optimistic."

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