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.

Because the measure we passed improves on what is commonly referred to as the state “Dream Act,” it’s been renamed and is now known as the Real Hope Act. Not only does it open eligibility to undocumented students, it also commits $5 million more to the State Need Grant – a financial aid program for low-income students.

The program is currently underfunded, leaving about 32,000 eligible students without aid. An additional $5 million will benefit all eligible students, not just those who are undocumented. It’s important to point out that undocumented students would have to meet strict requirements prior to eligibility and they wouldn’t go to the front of the line; they would simply join the pool of those already eligible for state financial aid.

I am glad my grandparents came to America and I’m proud of the values they instilled in their children and grandchildren. Today, I’m honored to manage the family-owned tree farm that my grandfather established all those years ago and to have received an education at my mom’s alma mater, the University of Washington.

We are all shaped by life experiences – things that give us our identity, and form our opinions and actions. My family’s story helped shape my opinion when it came time to vote on Senate Bill 6523.

The measure passed overwhelmingly with support from members of both parties, which tells me this isn’t a matter of political stance. As with many things, I think we can find bipartisan solutions to our problems if we just continue to work together.



Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, represents the 35th Legislative District, which includes Mason County and portions of Kitsap and Thurston Counties. He is president pro tempore of the Washington State Senate and a member of the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.


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