DENVER– Once again cheers and applause erupted under the golden dome when a bill to award in-state tuition to illegal immigrants was passed Thursday by the Senate Education Committee on a 6-3 vote. The aye votes were cast by five Democrats and a Republican – state Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs.
“We have a great piece of legislation that will finally garner bipartisan support in the general assembly,” declared state Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo), a sponsor of Senate Bill 33.
It’s the seventh attempt over the past 11 years to pass a bill granting in-state tuition to illegal students. SB 33 is sponsored by Giron and Denver Democrats state Sen. Michael Johnston, state Rep. Crisanta Duran and state Rep. Angela Williams.
“It would be a really great start if we could start that bipartisan support right here today – right at the starting gate,” said Giron.
Hill’s lone Republican vote was welcomed by the Democrats, but shocked some Republicans.
“Treasonous Sen. Owen Hill supports bill” headlined a post raging against the bill on The Two Malcontents blog. Former state Rep. Dave Schultheis (R-Colorado Springs) said in a Facebook message that he regretted having endorsed Hill in the Senate District 10 Republican primary against former state Rep. Larry Liston last year.
Hill seized top line on the ballot at the SD 10 Republican assembly after he accused Liston of having killed an E-verify bill last year. In fact, Liston had voted for the bill in the Economic & Business Develop Committee that was forwarded to the House Agriculture, Livestock & Natural Resources at the request of then committee chair state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling).
The buzz over Hill’s decision to support in-state tuition for illegal immigrants began last week. On Jan. 17, Johnston wrote on his website that Hill would vote for SB 33 “because it requires students to seek lawful residency.”
Hill spun a childhood memory of seeing the Statue of Liberty to reporters on Thursday, and said it was a reminder that “we’re a nation of immigrants.”
“We’ve got a moral duty to break down the barriers that government imposes,” declared Hill.
SB 33 would grant in-state tuition for higher education to illegal immigrants who either graduated from high or passed a GED test in Colorado. There is no age limitation to qualify for the special tuition break.
At least a third of the estimated 1,500 high school students here illegally are expected to take advantage of the in-state tuition which is subsidized by the College Opportunity Fund scholarship. The fund is used to offset tuition for legal in-state students – regardless of age.
Based on the estimated 500 illegal students per year, the state fund subsidy would be a minimum of $930,000 in the first year, and more than $1.4 million in subsequent years as enrollment climbs.
Legislative analysts predict that state colleges and universities will benefit from illegal students’ tuition payment that is expected to exceed $2 million a year.
Several students tearfully testified about their struggles as illegals. Yesenya Saucedo of Denversaid that if the bill passes, her dream of being a civil engineer will come true.
“My status has cost me internships, scholarships, affording college, international travel opportunities and the ability to have a driver’s license,” said Saucedo.
Republican Sens. Scott Renfroe of Greeley and Vicki Marble of Fort Collins questioned Saucedo’s vision.
“I want the federal government to address the real issue – and that is the real American dream – your citizenship,” Marble told Saucedo.
“If we pass this bill, I can’t help but think that the federal government will keep pushing this aside – that citizenship is what you’re really after,” said Marble. “I want that very badly for you because you deserve it.”
“There are many other things to do first and that is why unfortunately I’m not supporting this bill,” said Renfroe. “Other steps need to come first and (in-state tuition) is not that first step.”
Johnston disagreed with Renfroe, and said that “citizenship as the last step.”
Renfroe and Marble voted against SB 33 which will be sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee.