DENVER (AP) – A heated debate at the state Capitol on Thursday over another attempt to give illegal immigrant students in-state tuition. This is the fifth time Colorado Democrats have pushed the proposal in the last decade.
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.
“When the time came for me to go to college, I found it very difficult to find the money to pay for school and I realized how easy it is to just give up,” said Amita Menjivar, who pleaded the case of all undocumented students.
Senate Bill 126 would allow illegal immigrant students like Menjivar to pay the lower in-state tuition cost if they met certain criteria, such as attending a Colorado high school for at least three years and graduating from a state school. The bill was heard in committee Thursday afternoon.
Supporters argue making it easier for illegal immigrant students to attend college will help Colorado’s economy in the long-term and boost colleges’ coffers because they’ll have more students enrolled.
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.
“You can do it, give all benefits you want to illegal immigrants, but to be fair, you can’t discriminate against U.S. citizens and legal immigrants,” said University of Denver law professor Robert Hardaway.
California, Illinois and Texas are among 11 states that grant in-state tuition to illegal immigrants.
Previous attempts in Colorado have failed even when Democrats have controlled both chambers of the Legislature. Republicans, who have opposed the previous bills, now control the House, and Democrats still have a majority in the Senate.
The nonpartisan legislative council crunched the numbers on what it would mean for the state. It estimates 737 undocumented students will graduate from Colorado high schools this year and be eligible. The measure requires students to live in the state 3 years.
If roughly 25 percent of those students took advantage of the in-state tuition, it would mean an increase of about $1.7 million for Colorado colleges and universities in tuition they otherwise would not receive because those students wouldn’t go to college.
Because of the fiscal impact, the bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday.
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.
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.
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