DENVER (AP) — Illegal immigrants attending Colorado high schools are waiting to see if this is the year the Legislature allows them to attend state universities at tuition rates that are higher than those for in-state students but lower than out-of-state levels.
Both parties have defeated the bill in the past. This year, passage is likely in the Senate, led by Democrats, but uncertain in the House, controlled by Republicans. But a Republican House lawmaker of Mexican descent who has been discussing the legislation with Democrats could influence its passage.
This is the sixth time state lawmakers have tried to make college more affordable to illegal immigrants, who don’t qualify for the less-expensive in-state tuition. Out-of-state tuition can be up to five times higher, and supporters said that’s an obstacle many college-bound illegal immigrants raised in the U.S. can’t overcome.
“When you have a 9th grader or a 10th grader or an 8th grader who realizes they have no prospects for long-term success, they lose hope,” said Democratic Sen. Michael Johnston, a sponsor of the legislation.
Opponents argue that state funds should not subsidize the tuition of illegal immigrants. Over the years, supporters have modified their proposal to placate opponents.
Last year, Democratic lawmakers proposed taking out a state stipend, so illegal immigrants would pay a slightly higher rate than in-state students. The legislation still failed. This year, in addition to taking away the stipend, the proposal gives colleges the ability to opt out of creating what would be a third tuition category.
For example, an illegal immigrant student attending the University of Colorado at Boulder would pay about $9,500 annually, compared with an estimated $7,700 for in-state tuition and about $28,850 for out of state. To qualify, students must have graduated from a state high school after attending at least three years. They must also sign an affidavit saying they are seeking, or will seek, legal status.
“Even though our kids are going to be paying substantially more than their in-state colleagues, it still gives them a chance at access they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Johnston said.
A hearing on the bill, introduced last week, is yet to be scheduled.
Johnston said an estimated 300 to 500 students would benefit from the bill, and colleges could take in $2 million in tuition revenue as a result.
Thirteen states — including Texas, California, Illinois and Connecticut — have passed legislation granting in-state tuition for immigrant students, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Republican Rep. Robert Ramirez, who was among those who voted to defeat the legislation in the House last year, has been working with Democrats on the bill. Although he has yet to sign on in support, Ramirez said he might support the legislation if it ensures no state general fund money goes to the students. He said he’s working on amendments to the bill but would not discuss them.
Some opponents of the bill argue it would encourage illegal immigration, which supporters dismiss.
“I don’t buy that. Not with this bill. If that was the case, Texas and these other states would’ve been flooded by now,” said Ramirez, who sits on the House Education Committee that will hear the bill first if it passes the Senate.
Ramirez has said he has been pressured to vote for the bill because of his Hispanic heritage. His father moved to the U.S. from the Mexican city of Chapala, Jalisco, and Ramirez said his path to citizenship was a long, difficult and expensive process.
“I’m pretty proud of my heritage, I’m very proud to be Hispanic but this is about what’s right for the state of Colorado,” he said.
– By Ivan Moreno, AP Writer
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