Both chambers of the General Assembly have approved bills that allow undocumented immigrants to receive financial aid at Virginia colleges.
The Senate on Wednesday passed the bill by a vote of 20-18, two days after an identical version was approved by the House. Gov. Ralph Northam has expressed his support.
The legislation allows students to be eligible for state financial aid, school-issued aid and Tuition Assistance Grants for private schools regardless of immigration status. It comes a year after the General Assembly granted in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants.
“We know when people are educated, they do better, and it’s better for the economy,” Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, who sponsored Senate Bill 1387, told a Senate subcommittee.
There are 270,000 undocumented immigrants living in Virginia, said Del. Alfonso Lopez, D-Arlington, who sponsored the House version of the bill. He said the bill will help keep Virginia’s talent inside the state.
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The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) shields the children of undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Irma Becerra, president of Marymount University in Arlington, said the bill helps make college education more accessible. It can specifically help applicants to Marymount, where 25% of the student body identifies as Hispanic.
Abraham Castillo, a sophomore at the University of Virginia, is the president of UndocUVA, a group that provides resources to undocumented students.
“As a UVA student, I’ve been given access to outstanding educational opportunities,” he told a Senate subcommittee. “However, at the same time, I know many of my undocumented peers and my peers with DACA are struggling to afford these same resources.”
To be eligible, a student must attend high school in Virginia for at least two years. Refugees who are given special immigrant status can be made eligible earlier. The bill is scheduled to take effect in the fall of 2022.