A helping hand for college

Students who immigrated as children welcome expanded access to state grants

By Armando Machado

Wendy Martinez
Wendy Martinez may be able to get state financial aid to help pay for law school under the Real Hope Act, which benefits students who were brought to the country illegally as children.

Wendy Martinez has greater hope of becoming an immigration lawyer now that the state is extending college financial aid to students who were brought into the country illegally as children.

“I’m going to have another resource to be able to look for financial assistance, in order to pay for my education,” said Martinez, 22, youth group coordinator at Tacoma’s Sacred Heart Parish. After graduating in May from Pacific Lutheran University, Martinez plans to work and save money for a year before going to law school.

Martinez was just 7 years old when her family illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico. Last August, Martinez and her 16-year-old sister, Karla (who aspires to be a teacher), received temporary resident status under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals immigration program.

That status is one eligibility requirement of the state’s Real Hope Act, signed Feb. 26 by Gov. Jay Inslee. The law provides an additional $5 million in need-based college grants for DACA students through 2015. These students have faced extra struggles with funding obstacles because of their immigration status.

The new law may also help Joel Cruz, 18, a parishioner at Bellingham’s Church of the Assumption.

“It will give me more opportunities to fund my education,” said Cruz, who attends Whatcom Community College and plans to study sports medicine. “I can apply for new scholarships, bigger scholarships,” said Cruz, who was 9 when his family illegally crossed the Mexico-U.S. border.

Cruz and his brother, Noe, 17, have received DACA status, and their 15-year-old sister, Elvia, will soon apply for the two-year, renewable designation.

Their mother, Maria Cruz, also an Assumption parishioner, said she has always taught her children the importance of faith, family and education. The new law is “very good news” for her children, she said, “because it will help them achieve their dreams.”

March 18, 2014