Policies, Laws, and Judicial Rulings that Impact Undocumented Students

Information about policies, laws, and judicial rulings that impact undocumented students at Western. The information is organized by level (WWU, city of Bellingham, state, and federal).

Bellingham’s Ordinances and Municipal Code

An ordinance of Bellingham of relating to city policy with respect to immigration enforcement, equal protection, and equal provision of city services regardless of immigration status and creating a new chapter of the Bellingham Municipal Code, Chapter 2.25: Equal Protection and Provision of Services Regardless of Immigration Status, regarding such matters.

An ordinance of the city of Bellingham amending Ordinance No. 2019- 11-033, which established an Immigration Advisory Board and amending the Bellingham Municipal Code, Chapter 2.26: Immigration Advisory Board, to codify the establishment, function, and membership of the Board.

Washington State's Actions

In 2003, Governor Gary Locke signed into law House Bill 1079, which allows eligible undocumented Washington students who meet specific qualifications to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. Since HB 1079 was approved as state law, 1079 students are considered “residents” for purposes of higher education.

In 2014, Governor Jay Inslee signed into law SB 6523, the REAL (Raising Educational Access, changing Lives) Hope Act, which expanded eligibility for the Washington State Need Grant (SNG)* tuition program to undocumented students who meet the program’s eligibility requirements. This led to the creation of the Washington Application for State Financial Aid (WASFA), which allows non-citizens to apply for student financial aid in Washington state.

*The SNG program is presently called the Washington College Grant (WCG) program.

In 2014, the Washington Legislature enacted HB 1817, the Washington State DREAM Act (WSDA), which made undocumented students eligible for state financial aid.

In 2018, HB 1488 was passed into law. It protects Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients from losing state financial aid eligibility if the DACA program is eliminated at the federal level.

In 2019, Governor Jay Inslee signed SB 5497, the Keep Washington Working Act (KWW), into law.  The KWW:

  • Prohibits local law enforcement from routinely questioning individuals about immigration status, notifying Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that a non-citizen is in custody, and detaining someone for civil immigration enforcement.
  • Mandates Washington’s jails to cease holding immigrants in civil detention under contract with ICE and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
  • Confers Washington status as a sanctuary* state.

*The term “sanctuary” can be misleading because there is no singular definition of what constitutes a “sanctuary” policy, and a lot of variance exists among the policies adopted by cities, counties, and states under the use of the term, “sanctuary.” “Sanctuary” should not be understood as to mean true protection from immigration enforcement, since cities, counties, and states cannot legally prevent federal immigration authorities from enforcing federal law within their jurisdiction; but in general, “sanctuary” jurisdictions are those with rules that limit the extent to which local government authorities collaborate with federal officials to enforce immigration law.

In 2020, HB 2567, the Courts Open to All (COTA) Act, was enacted. It prohibits federal civil arrests at or near courthouses in Washington state, and bars certain forms of information-sharing by court employees and prosecutors with federal immigration authorities (including ICE and CBP).

In 2021, SB 5194, the Our Colleges, Our Future Act, significantly changed Washington’s tuition equity law. Section nine of the bill amends RCW 28B.15.012(2)(e), making it easier for all Washingtonians, including and especially undocumented students, to meet residency requirements to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities and apply to state financial aid. This part of residency law has been commonly referred as HB 1079.

In order to qualify under this bill, students must meet the following requirements:

  • You earned a high school diploma, GED, or diploma equivalent before your first term at the college determining residency
  • You maintained a primary residence in Washington for at least 12 consecutive months immediately before your first term at the college determining residency

For more information, review the Registrar’s Residency Overview.

Federal Actions

The 100-Mile Zone refers to a federal law that allows without a warrant, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol to board vehicles and vessels and search for people without immigration documentation within 100 miles from any external boundary of the USA. Roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population lives within the 100-mile zone (including those residing in Bellingham).

Brown v. Board of Education was the name given to the five cases consolidated and heard by the U.S. Supreme Court concerning segregation in public schools. While the facts of each case are different, the main issue raised was that separate school systems for Black and white students were inherently unequal, and thus violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Court ruled that in the field of public education the “separate but equal” doctrine had no place. Separate educational facilities were deemed unconstitutional and inherently unequal. The decision overturned Plessy v. Ferguson which in 1896, allowed state-sponsored segregation.

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is a U.S. immigration policy created by the Obama Administration in June of 2012 that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year relief from deportation known as “deferred action.” It also allows recipients to apply for work authorization during that two-year period. This was an executive action that only deferred removal and does not confer any change in legal status to the immigrants who meet the eligibility requirements. More than 800,000 undocumented youth nationwide received DACA. In Washington, approximately 18,000 undocumented youth are DACA recipients. 

In 2017, the Trump Administration attempted to rescind the DACA program, but were unsuccessful; there have been continuing legal challenges to the program that have led to continuing uncertainty. While the Biden Administration quickly affirmed its commitment to DACA recipients, the uncertain future of the DACA program, as well as any Congressional action that would lead to a permanent status process remains an ongoing challenge.

On July 16, 2021, Judge Andrew Hanen, a federal district court judge in Texas, ruled that the DACA program was unlawful, but put part of the decision on hold. The court ordered U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) stop processing new DACA applications, as well as accompanying requests for employment authorization, until the litigation is resolved. In the meantime, the court has allowed USCIS to process DACA renewals, along with the accompanying requests for employment authorization. Current DACA recipients are also able to continue applying for Advanced Parole, and USCIS will process those applications, however applications have been known to take up to six months for non-emergency cases.

On July 27, 2021, USCIS updated its guidance to reflect how the agency will implement the court’s decision, which stated that USCIS will only make decisions on Renewal DACA applications. USCIS concluded that renewals are considered to be either:

  1. Applications filed where the application was either filed by an individual with current DACA status, or
  2. Applications filed by an individual whose DACA status expired less than a year ago.

Therefore, if somebody’s DACA status expired more than a year ago, USCIS considers the application to be a Renewal, and USCIS will treat the application as a subject to the permanent injunction, which means that USCIS will not make decisions on Renewal as Initial applications while it waits for the court process to play out. For those who had an Initial application or a Renewal application pending on July 16, 2021, those applications will remain pending.

In September 2021, the Biden Administration appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fifth Circuit.

On July 6, 2022, a three-judge panel from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments concerning whether the DACA program is lawful. The Fifth Circuit is expected to rule on the case in the coming months, with the losing side likely to seek further review by the full bench of the Fifth Circuit, and eventually the U.S. Supreme Court.

This section will be updated as soon as there are further developments in this case.

For more information about DACA: 

The DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education, for Alien Minors) Act was introduced in 2001 as a bipartisan bill in the Senate. Its legislative goal was to provide a means for undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children to gain a pathway to permanent legal status, provided those individuals achieved certain milestones. The legislation never passed, and the use of its name perpetuates the use of the derogatory terminology, “alien.” It is important to note that college students over the years have participated in “coming out of the shadows” events and outed themselves publicly on their college campuses as a way to bring about awareness of the undocumented movement in higher education.

For more information about the DREAM Act:

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) is a federal law that was enacted in 1974 that protects the privacy of student education records at educational institutions, including elementary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities, that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.

For more information about FERPA:

Immigration Accountability Executive Action refers to a series of Obama Administration executive actions on immigration that prioritize the deportations of immigrants with criminal records and allows certain undocumented immigrants to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation after successfully passing a criminal background check and paying taxes. The initiatives include expanding the population eligible for DACA, allowing parents of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents who have been present in the country since January 1, 2010 to apply for protection from deportation and employment authorization for three years. Additionally, it expands the provisional waivers of unlawful presence to include the spouses and sons and daughters of lawful permanent residents and sons and daughters of U.S. citizens.

For more information about Immigration Accountability Executive Action:

Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) is an act of Congress that reformed U. S. immigration law on November 6, 1986 by requiring employers to attest to their employees’ immigration status. IRCA made it illegal to knowingly hire or recruit undocumented immigrants.

Plyer v. Doe is a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that established that all school-age kindergarten to 12th grade students, regardless of immigration status, have a right to a free public education through protections afforded by the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Additionally, public schools cannot ask about immigration status or social security numbers of their students and families.

For more information about Plyer v. Doe:

Real ID Act is a federal law that Congress passed in 2005 with the intention to help reduce fraud by establishing minimum security standards for state-issued driver licenses and identification cards. Nationwide, starting May 3, 2023 anyone traveling by airplane or visiting certain federal facilities must use a Real ID compliant license or ID card.

Washington State’s Department of Licensing will still offer standard driver licenses and IDs that can be used by Washington residents to drive, or serve as identification. They do not indicate a person's residency, or legal status. However, beginning May 3, 2023, they will no longer be accepted as valid forms for ID for boarding domestic flights or accessing federal facilities. 

For more information: