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Dream Act making higher education reality for undocumented students

Dream Act making higher education reality for undocumented students

CHENEY, Wash. - Washington is just one signature away from offering financial aid to undocumented college students after state legislature passed the controversial Dream Act.

It's a very emotional time for undocumented college students liked Elena Calderon, who's advocated for the dream act for the last four years. She says the legislature's action is a sign of hope and shows the state wants to invest in education.

"I was being carried by my dad because I was too little to walk, I was only three years old," Calderon said.

Twenty years later she still remembers the day she came to America from Mexico for a better life.

"I remember looking up, seeing the border patrol helicopter, and my mom right away got her rosary beads and started praying," she said.

The family didn't get caught and she grew up in Mattawa, working in the fields to pay for college since she wasn't able to get financial aid.

"That's like the first barrier to the education system, right away you tell yourself I don't belong here, I should go back to Mexico, but it would be going back to a country with a lot of violence," Calderon said.

She worked hard to get her degree from Eastern Washington University, where she's still studying and working on her masters degree.

"As a student you go through the regular stress a student goes through but on top of that, how am I going to go to school, am I going to have to drop out this quarter? Do I have to go to a community college," she said.

But that extra stress won't be there anymore. This week the Washington legislature lifted the financial barriers for undocumented students. The Dream Act expands college financial aid to those brought to the state illegally as children. The bill requires undocumented students to have a high school diploma and live in the state for at least three years.

"We aren't criminals, my parents just came here for a better future, and that's what we are doing, we are trying to get an education," Calderon said.

For undocumented students like Calderon, college isn't a dream anymore, it's reality.

"It was a teary eyed experience. All those tears though, it was worth it," she said.

Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming weeks, making Washington the fourth state in the country after California, Texas and New Mexico, to approve state financial aid for undocumented college students.