Immigrant tuition bill advances

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Undocumented immigrant children are part of the “melting pot” of our society, and they should have “the same opportunities as other kids do.”

And that's just Republicans talking.

A bill that would allow undocumented students in Colorado to pay in-state tuition rates at colleges and universities passed the Senate on Feb. 25, with three Republicans joining all 20 Democrats in voting yes on Senate Bill 33.

The bill, which has been dubbed ASSET — Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow — would apply to all students, so long as they have graduated from high school and have attended a Colorado school for at least three years.

“There are some pretty great kids out there who could benefit if we pass this,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, during a Senate floor debate in the days leading up to the final vote.

Joining Brophy in voting for the bill were fellow Republican Senators Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Larry Crowder of Alamosa.

Any issue involving illegal immigration has been a dicey one for Republicans in recent years. On one hand, the number of Hispanic voters only continues to grow - and they overwhelmingly support Democrats. At the same time, Republican lawmakers face pressure from the right wing of their party to oppose any efforts that it sees as being akin to softening on issues surrounding illegal immigration.

“(Republicans) who vote for this bill are risking everything, politically,” Brophy said. “It takes a lot of courage to vote for this bill.”

Crowder said that it's wrong to expect undocumented immigrant students to forgo life goals and “flip burgers.”

“We just look at it differently down there,” he said of his Senate District 35. “I'm of the opinion that this is a very conservative idea.”

Crowder also reminded his Senate colleagues that the country needs more workers to pay into Social Security, and that can be helped by creating an environment where more people have opportunities to gain an education and earn better salaries to pay into the system.

Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton — who voted against a similar bill in 2009 — agreed with Crowder, as she voiced her support of the legislation this time around.

“We are going to have a huge shortage of workforce for our businesses,” she said.

This is an emotional issue for many Democrats, and that was on display during the floor debate leading up to the final vote. Sen. Angela Giron, R-Pueblo, a bill co-sponsor, spoke through tears as she said how “this legislation changed my life,” and how she decided to run for office because of it.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, who is a former teacher, recalled how “emotionally crushing” it was to see some of her students lose hope of ever being able to attend college.

“They get this subtle message that they are not valued,” she said.

The bill ended up passing the Senate on a 23-12 vote. ASSET now heads to the House of Representatives.

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