Friday, February 18, 2011

Illegal immigrant tuition bill moves ahead

A measure granting in-state tuition status for applicants who live in Colorado, but lack legal citizenship status, was approved by a panel of lawmakers Thursday on a party-line vote.

Senate Bill 126 would create a new category of tuition for students who meet entrance qualifications but whose immigration status would otherwise prevent them from in-state tuition rates. The new category would be called “unsubsidized in-state tuition,” which would amount to in-state tuition rates without the College Opportunity Fund contribution that is given to Colorado residents.

To qualify for the hybrid rate, an applicant must have attended a Colorado high school for three years prior to admission and apply within 12 months of graduation. Prospective students also must submit an affidavit stating they have either applied for citizenship or intend to apply for citizenship when the opportunity is available.

The measure is a joint effort of Sens. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, and Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who are co-sponsoring the bill.

Giron told the Senate Education Committee hearing the bill that it is wrong to deny much lower in-state tuition for those who typically came to the United States as children and went to most of their K-12 schooling in Colorado but, through no fault of their own, are not legal U.S. residents.

“This is the right thing to do, and the wise thing to do,” said Giron. “These students want to be citizens and are citizens in every sense except documentation.”

One such student, Aminta Meijivar, spoke on behalf of students who, like her, want to go to college but find the cost of out-of-state tuition prohibitive. Meijivar was able to attend college through the generosity of others but said her good fortune is not always visited on others. Her fear, she said, was that they would not even try to go.

“I realize how easy it is to give up and not go at all,” said Meijivar.

Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, said that removing some of the financial barriers for these kids may seem like the right thing to do but it doesn’t solve the issue of their legal status.

“I support every young person that wants an education, and everybody deserves that opportunity,” said Spence. “However, we may just be giving them false hope because when they graduate, they won’t be able to get jobs legally. We would be turning them into felons when they graduate.”

Johnston said that regardless of legal status, an educated workforce is still preferable and that for many of these kids society already has invested in their education through their K-12 years. Johnston also stated that he supports the Dream Act, which would create a path to citizenship through changes to federal law.

“This is about what it’s going to take to make the state economically competitive,” said Johnston. “We have students that we have already invested in. Why would we stop when it comes to higher ed? These kids are here to stay. We’re better off if more of them have college degrees.”

The measure is now headed to the full Senate for consideration. Should it meet the Senate’s approval and head over to the House, Speaker Pro tem Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, says the Democratic-sponsored bill will get a fair shake in the Republican-controlled chamber.

“We give all bills a fair hearing in whatever committee of reference they land,’” said Priola. “We’ll look at SB126 on its own merits and look at what it means for Colorado.”

Via - Colorado News Agency

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