Legislature Approves Tuition Discount for Illegal Immigrants

March 8, 2013

Republicans proposed putting the question to Colorado voters, but Democrats rejected the amendment

DENVER–A bill to extend in-state tuition rates to illegal immigrants moves to the governor’s desk after gaining final approval Friday in the state House.

Three Republicans crossed party lines to vote with Democrats in approving Senate Bill 33, known as Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow, or ASSET, which won by a comfortable 40-21 margin. Another four Republicans were excused.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is expected to sign the bill, which allows illegal immigrants graduating from Colorado high schools to pay the lower, in-state tuition rate at state colleges and universities. To qualify, students must have logged at least three years at Colorado high schools and must be in the process of seeking U.S. citizenship.

Democrats hailed the vote as a historic moment for Colorado, calling the measure “an idea whose time has come,” in the words of state Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver). Similar measures have failed six times in the state legislature and debate on the issue goes back at least a decade. 

“It’s a very proud moment for me,” said state Rep. Crisanta Duran (D-Denver) after the vote. “I’m thrilled for the hundreds of students who will benefit from this bill, who are Coloradans in every way except for a piece of paper. We just gave them a shot at the American dream.” 

Republicans opposing the bill argued that it would give undocumented teenagers false hope, pointing out that the legislature had not addressed how the state would subsidize the lower tuition rates.

“What are we telling them? That the beneficial hand of government is the only way you can achieve American dream?” said state Rep. Lori Saine (R-Dacono), who added that she’s still paying off her student loans. “That hand is empty. We don’t know how this is going to be funded. We don’t know if it will continue.” 

State Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park) said the bill gives undocumented students false hope in that even if they finish college, they cannot be hired by U.S. employers under federal law. She also noted that President Obama’s executive order stopping deportation of illegal immigrants brought here as children is a temporary waiver set to expire in two years.

“It worries me that after making that decision, unless we have comprehensive immigration reform on a federal level, these young adults are going to be in the same position they are right now,” said Lawrence. “They aren’t going to be able to find a job. They’re going to have crushing debt that’s going to weigh on them, and I just don’t see how that provides a brighter future.”

Democrats noted that a dozen other states have approved similar tuition breaks for illegal immigrants despite the lack of federal action.

“I’m amazed that the surrounding states of Texas, Utah, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma have all provided this opportunity for their children,” said state Rep. Max Tyler (D-Lakewood). “Colorado should follow the lead of these conservative states.”

Earlier this week, Republicans proposed putting the bill before Colorado voters, but Democrats rejected the amendment.

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