Illegal immigrant tuition bill passes first hurdle

MEGAN SCHRADER Updated: January 24, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: January 24, 2013

DENVER — A bill that would allow illegal immigrants in Colorado to qualify for in-state tuition at state colleges and universities passed its first hurdle Thursday in the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, was among the six committee members, and the only Republican, to vote in favor of the bill.

After the three-hour hearing, Hill said it’s time for America’s policy on humans moving across international boundaries to catch up with our policy on trade.

He said we’re no longer isolationists in commerce, and then quoted a passage engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

“We’re a nation of immigrants,” Hill said. “We’ve studied this for a while, and we’ve got to address the moral issues of our age.”

The other three Republicans on the panel voted against the bill, which now goes to the Senate Committee on Appropriations for consideration.

Known as ASSET — Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy — this is the seventh attempt to get the legislation enacted. The first was 13-years ago.

Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, asked why the language this year didn’t offer undocumented students an intermediary tuition rate like it did in last year’s bill. The rate was not quite out-of state tuition but still more than in-state tuition.

“What’s the justification of dropping that portion of the bill and going to a lower or just two-tiered tuition, and how will that impact the citizens of Colorado and then the taxpayer?” Renfroe asked.

Last year the bill passed the Senate, but was killed in a House committee dominated by Republicans. This year Democrats hold both bodies, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has expressed his support for the measure.

“It’s worth a small laugh to note how much the tone has changed,” said Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, author of the bill.

Johnston said last year students who testified went home in fear of being reported for deportation. This year he said the university and community college presidents who testified are fighting over which school the students will be admitted to.

“It is symbolic of the way public opinion has changed in this state,” he said.

Among the educators to speak was Lance Bolton, president of Pikes Peak Community College.

“We do not profit or prosper as a state by maintaining barriers to higher education for segments of our society,” Bolton said. “It’s good for Colorado’s economy, citizens … and it’s just the right thing to do.”

Under the proposed law students must have attended a Colorado high school in the three years preceding graduation or have obtained a GED. Students also must attest that they have begun seeking or will seek legal status in the United States. An executive order recently made it possible for illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to file for deferred status. The option gives undocumented students the opportunity to stay in the U.S. for up to four years and to work.

About the bill

SB33: Known as the ASSET bill, it would allow students who have attended Colorado schools for the three years preceding graduation or who obtained a GED to attend any state college or university they are admitted to with in-state tuition rates.

Authors: Senators Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Mike Johnston, D-Denver; Representatives Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, and Angela Williams, D-Denver.

Action: Senate Education Committee approved 6-3

Next step: Senate Appropriations Committee

Contact Megan Schrader: 719-286-0644 Twitter @CapitolSchrader

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