Posted: Feb 18, 2011 6:29 AM by Bea Karnes
DENVER (AP)-A Democratic proposal to let illegal immigrants pay in-state tuition at Colorado colleges received initial approval Thursday, but it still faces many hurdles before it becomes law, including a strong opposition in the Republican controlled House.
This is the fifth time Democrats have proposed letting illegal immigrant students qualify for the lower-priced in-state tuition that Colorado residents receive, arguing that it will boost higher education coffers and help the state's economy over the long run.
"You have an investment in these young people," said Stephen Jordan, the president of the Metropolitan State College of Denver. "We need to stop thinking about what we have been spending on these children in grades K-12 as an expense, and rather think of it as an investment-an investment in intellectual capital which will provide a return to our economy into the future."
The Senate Education committee approved the proposal on a 5-2 vote, with Republicans voting against it. While most testimony supported the bill, there were two organizations that voiced opposition. A representative of a group that opposes illegal immigration called for the committee's sergeants-at-arms to "clear the room of everyone but the public."
"I contend that the public would not include someone who is unauthorized to be in the state," said Stan Weekes, state director for Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform, which opposes Senate Bill 126. Weekes said the bill would only benefit a small number of "unauthorized individuals."
Democrats say they've modified their proposal this year to make it more appealing to opponents, who argue illegal immigrants should not be getting state benefits.
Illegal immigrant students would qualify for in-state tuition if they met certain criteria, such as attending a Colorado high school for at least three years and graduating from a state school. Sen. Angela Giron, a first-year lawmaker from Pueblo, said her proposal this year is different from previous bills because it requires that students sign an affidavit with a college saying they are trying to obtain legal residency, a provision that other states have included in their legislation.
California, Illinois, Kansas and Texas are among 11 states that grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Giron's bill is also different from past attempts because it makes illegal immigrant students ineligible for a state stipend that in-state tuition students can use at a college of their choice. That means illegal immigrants would still pay more than others who get in-state tuition. For example, illegal immigrants getting in-state tuition would pay $2,297 per semester for 12 credits at Metropolitan State College of Denver. But in-state students who get the state stipend, known as the College Opportunity Fund, pay $1,553. The rate for out-of-state students at the college is $6,727.
Republican Sen. Nancy Spence said she opposed the bill because of the false hope it would give to students with documentation who would not be able to get a job after graduating.
"Until they're legal in this country, I don't see what the advantage is to offering them false hope," she said.
The bill now goes to another Senate committee where Democrats have control but it will likely face a stiffer challenge in the House where Republicans have a majority. While Colorado Republicans have historically opposed the bill, the proposal has also failed in the past with help from Democrats.
Opponents of the legislation say providing in-state tuition to illegal immigrants will lead to higher operating costs at colleges and that it rewards illegal behavior.
Aminta Menjivar, a graduate of Littleton High School and a college student in Colorado, spoke to the committee Thursday, saying she was there on behalf of other undocumented students who could not attend. She said she spends times in high schools to encourage illegal immigrants to graduate from high school and attend college.
"Because I want to them to achieve their dreams and to contribute positively to our economy and our society," she said.
Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston, the measure's co-sponsor, said Menjivar was the only student to speak over fears that other students could be reported to immigration authorities if they signed up to testify. Johnston said that happened two years ago when another version of the in-state tuition bill was in the Legislature.