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Colorado Immigrant Tuition Bill Advances

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The Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

The Colorado Legislature (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Illegal immigrants in Colorado are closer to getting in-state tuition rates, as long as they seek citizenship.

Talk about elections having consequences.

A Democratic Senate committee voted 6-3 Thursday to allow Colorado residents who are illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition. The change would be a dramatic turnaround for a state where lawmakers less than a decade ago barred illegal immigrants from receiving any nonemergency state benefits.

This year’s tuition bill is thought likely to become law because Democrats took control of both chambers of the Legislature. Latinos last year made up an estimated 14 percent of Colorado’s vote, the highest-ever turnout for the group.

Immigrant tuition proposals for Colorado’s growing population of college-age immigrants had languished in the state Legislature for years. For the last two years, tuition measures were blocked by the GOP-controlled House. In other previous attempts, the bill failed because of Democratic opposition, but the party has unified its support for the bill.

Last year, immigrant advocates tried to sell Republicans on a compromise measure setting up a new tuition rate somewhere between in-state and out-of-state rates, but Republicans balked.

This year, the Democratic tuition bill drops the compromise and would allow illegal immigrants who attend Colorado high schools to receive full in-state rates. More than a dozen young Latinos packed a Senate Education hearing room to plead for in-state rates.

One of them stressed her identity as a Coloradan.

“I was brought to the United States when I was 4 months old,” said Alexa Bailon, 17, of Denver. “I’m used to the crazy and sunny mile-high weather. I’m still devastated over the Broncos’ loss.”

The tuition measure would require illegal immigrants receiving in-state tuition to pursue citizenship. That would include students participating in a “deferred action” program started by President Barack Obama.

Unlike last year’s tuition bill, the one pending in the 2013 Legislature would not give Colorado schools the option of not granting illegal immigrants in-state rates if they’re qualified residents. Legislative analysts predicted the bill would bring in about $2 million next year in additional tuition from about 500 new students.

The stronger tuition bill attracted the first positive vote from a Republican senator. Sen. Owen Hill, of Colorado Springs, joined five Democrats on the committee.

“We’ve got a moral duty to break down barriers that government imposes,” Hill said after the vote.

Other Republicans remained skeptical. Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, told one student at the hearing that tuition for illegal immigrants won’t fix the nation’s larger immigration problem.

“We are way behind on getting you what you really deserve, and that is citizenship,” Marble told the student.

Colorado’s immigrant tuition measure at a glance

Colorado is poised to allow residents who are illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition. A look at the measure:

- MUST BE COLORADAN: Students receiving in-state rates would have to attend a Colorado high school for at least three years preceding graduation, or receive a GED in Colorado.

- IT WON’T COST MONEY: State estimates say the tuition change will bring Colorado colleges about $2 million next school year in additional tuition.

- HOW MANY WILL USE IT? No one knows for sure, but state analysts project state schools will have 500 new students next school year and an additional 250 new students each year thereafter.

- SCHOOLS CAN’T SAY NO: Last year’s unsuccessful immigrant tuition measure would have allowed state colleges and universities not to extend in-state tuition to illegal immigrant students. This year’s bill does not.

Source: Senate Bill 33, legislative fiscal analysis

By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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