Immigrant tuition bill clears panel

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Yesenya Saucedo fought back tears Thursday as she recalled being laughed at in kindergarten, and feeling “clueless and dumb” because of her struggles to speak English.

Now, several years after her family brought Saucedo to the U.S. illegally, she is well on her way to graduating from Denver's Bruce Randolph School this spring — with 23 college credits under her belt, to boot.

“What I have done is what I've been asked, and even a little bit more,” she said during her testimony before a Colorado General Assembly committee hearing on a bill to which she is tying her college and career hopes.

Saucedo wants to go to college, but because she is an undocumented student, she cannot afford to pay the hefty, out-of-state tuition rate to attend a Colorado school. But there remains hope for Saucedo, because the Senate bill that's been dubbed ASSET — Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow — has cleared its first legislative hurdle.

The bill — which would allow illegal immigrants to pay the same tuition at state colleges and universities as other students who are residents — passed the nine-member Senate Education Committee Jan. 24.

Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, who chairs the Education Committee, was one of five Democrats who voted to move the bill forward.

“We're never better off with fewer educated students,” Hudak said. “When people do not have hope, then it is very difficult to make it from day-to-day — especially children.”

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who is one of the bill's sponsors, said that if the bill becomes law, it would bring in about $2 million in net revenue to the state. Johnson said Colorado is forcing too many young people leave the state to attend colleges at neighboring states that already have laws similar to the one proposed in the ASSET bill. Once they graduate, they remain in those states and contribute to the economies there.

“If we don't stop to help these young people, what will happen to us as a state?” Johnston told the committee.

One Republican committee member, Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, joined all five Democrats in voting to move the legislation forward. Three Republicans voted no.

Only one person testified in opposition to the legislation. John Buck of the Colorado Alliance for Immigration Reform called the bill “illegal,” and said Colorado citizens “want illegal aliens to self-deport.”

“This illegal education bill provides one more incentive for illegal alien families to cross our borders and diminish our resources,” he said.

The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee, before going to the full Senate for a vote. It is likely that the bill will pass the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.