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Illegal Immigrant Tuition Bill Faces Crucial Vote

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Sen. Mike Johnston talks with CBS4's Shaun Boyd (credit: CBS)

Sen. Mike Johnston talks with CBS4’s Shaun Boyd (credit: CBS)

DENVER (CBS4) – A plan giving illegal immigrants a break on university tuition in Colorado is about to face a crucial vote. It could affect possibly thousands of students who’ve worked hard in high school but couldn’t afford college.

For first time the bill has bipartisan backing. It’s the result of intense behind-the-scenes negotiating at the Capitol.

Prominent Republicans, CEOs and business groups have all come out in support of the bill this year along with almost every college and university in the state. It’s a bill that could change the lives of thousands of students in Colorado.

They are children who’ve grown up in Colorado, attended school, made good grades and graduated — only to learn, for them, college is out of reach. They are students, who through no fault of their own, are here illegally and don’t qualify for in-state tuition.

“Most of these kids, it’s not until I would get my students to 12th grade and they fill out a financial aid form, that some of them don’t know yet, and I didn’t know they were undocumented because they’ve lived here since they were a year,” said Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

Johnston has fought for years to lower their tuition. Again and again Republicans have shot him down. But this year things are different.

“I’m very favorable to it this year,” said Rep. Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs.

Massey, chair of the House Education Committee, was the swing vote last year that killed the bill. It would have given the students in-state rates. This year’s bill sets up a third category of tuition — higher than in-state, but lower than out-of-state. Only students who’ve applied for citizenship are eligible and colleges can opt out.

“It’s a shame for us to suddenly say, ‘K-12 is alright, but higher ed, sorry, no go,’ ” Massey said.

Other Republicans are also rethinking their position.

“We have to make sure we take a look at all sides,” said Rep. John Becker, R-Fort Morgan.

Becker is on the fence after receiving a visit from some of the students impacted.

“It’s hard to look at those students and say ‘no’ without some concrete reason as to why I’m saying that,” Becker said.

“These are kids who have seen themselves as American since the day entered school, and what they want now is to be able to do what we’ve told them they ought to do, which is aspire for something better,” Johnston said.

The big argument against the bill is it will draw more illegal immigrants to Colorado. But 14 other states already have similar laws, and in Texas, not only do they get in-state tuition, but financial aid as well.

The bill goes before the Education Committee Monday.

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