Fri January 25, 2013

Instate Immigrant Tuition Bill Clears First Hurdle

Illegal immigrant students in Colorado are one step closer to receiving in-state college tuition.

The issue has long been divisive at the legislature, but senate bill 33 passed the Senate education committee Thursday with bipartisan support.

This is the seventh time Democrats have brought forward some version of the in-state tuition bill. This year the measure has the votes to become law – and that drew a large crowd at the capitol’s biggest hearing room.

Denver High school senior Yesenya Saucedo testified that she can’t afford to pay out of state tuition. She came to the U.S. as a young child and is ranked fourth in her class. By the time she graduates in May she’ll have earned 23 college credits.

“I was afraid that my dream of being a civil engineer was never going to come true. My status has cost me internships, scholarships, the ability to have a driver’s license,” said Saucedo.

It’s estimated that 500 students would take advantage of the tuition bill. To qualify a student must have attended a Colorado high school for three years, be accepted to college and apply for citizenship.

Democratic senator Angela Giron of Pueblo is one of the bill’s main sponsors. She says there’s no reason to hold these students back especially when the state has already spent so much money educating them in the K-12 system.

“I don’t know anyone that invests and when you’re about to get returns they just stop.”

Colleges and Universities across the state support the measure. In fact, the instate tuition bill has gathered more and more support each year from people across Colorado, but Republican lawmakers have been almost united in their opposition.

“There are many other things we need to do first. There are other steps we need to do first to respect our rule of law,” said Republican senator Scott Renfroe of Greeley.

Thursday’s hearing was significantly shorter than last year and only one person testified against the bill. Democratic senator Michael Johnston who is a main sponsor of the measure commented on the difference.

“It’s worth a small laugh to note how the tone has changed from hostility to a hiring fair. Four years ago students were reported to immigration officials, today, I think I saw schools fight over who could recruit the students. We no longer see them as threats but understand them as assets,” said Johnson.

One Republican on the education committee even voted for the bill, which is also a first. Democrats hope to move the measure through both chambers quickly and get it to the desk of Governor Hickenlooper, who has pledged to sign it.