Argument made for immigrant tuition tier
DENVER—Some Colorado senators told tearful stories about why undocumented high school immigrants should qualify for in-state college tuition, others merely gave commonsense reasons for supporting the idea.
Despite arguments to the contrary, a bill to do just that easily won preliminary approval in the Colorado Senate on Friday.
The controversial measure, which still requires a final Senate vote before heading to the Colorado House, is designed to help students whose parents brought them to the nation illegally, but have graduated from a Colorado high school and want to continue their educations.
Under it, those students must have attended a Colorado school for at least three years, graduated here, been admitted to a Colorado college or university and have filed an affidavit saying they are seeking legal residency status.
While most Republican senators opposed the bill on several grounds, primarily because of concerns over federal immigration issues, three did join the majority of Democrats in the Senate in support.
“I have a hard time making what I still think are principled arguments against it knowing some pretty great kids out there who could truly benefit from the passage of a bill like this,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray. “The one event that happened over the course of the summer that made me decide I need to rethink this with a little more depth was in the presidential primaries, when every one of the Republican presidential candidates suggested that the people who are in the country illegally should self-deport, go back home.
“I thought about that in terms of the kids that I know in Kit Carson and Burlington and Wray. They are home,” he added. “They play Wii and Xbox and football and baseball. They can’t leave here to go home because they are home. And if they are home they are going to stay here. And if they are going to stay here, they ought to be availed of the exact same opportunities as the other kids they go to school with.”
Brophy was one of three Republican senators to speak out in favor of the measure, joining the 20 Democrats who also support it.
Regardless, several GOP senators said the law is the law, and illegal is still illegal.
Many called on the federal government to fix the issue by addressing immigration reform.
One senator called allowing the students a lower in-state tuition rate a slippery slope to amnesty, and he doesn’t support giving anyone who came to the United States illegally a path to citizenship.
“It’s not a wholesale change to all the state’s policies with respect to those who are here illegally, but is a step of amnesty,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “It is saying to those who find themselves here illegally that we will simply not look at that status and we’ll call you legal for the purposes of gaining in-state tuition.”
Supporters of SB33 argued that not only is qualifying such students for in-state tuition the right thing to do for the sake of their educations, but it also is the fiscally responsible thing to do for the state.
Rather than seeing generations of high school students turn away from being responsible citizens, helping them get educations that will lead to better-paying jobs and more productive lives saves taxpayer money in the long run, supporters said.
Sen. Michael Johnston, one of the bill’s sponsors, told a dramatic story about a student in his district who had to take extraordinary measures to win the right to go to college in Colorado.
To do that, though, the student was forced by U.S. immigration officials to return to Mexico, which he fled years ago with this mother and siblings in an effort to escape a drug cartel that had murdered his father and brother because they stood up to it.
The student ended up gaining temporary residency status and has enlisted in the U.S. Army in hopes of winning full citizenship. He’s now awaiting orders to fight in Afghanistan.
“And here I was so angry at the country that had put him at so much risk for so long,” the Denver Democrat said, referring to the U.S. government. “He said, ‘You know what, Mr. Johnston, for all those years that there where folks here who I knew had my back, I want them to know that I will have theirs.’”
A final Senate vote on the bill is expected to be cast on Monday.