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ASSET backers upbeat, confident

Updated 3 p.m. – A jubilant crowd of students, educators, politicians and others packed the west lobby of the Capitol at midday Tuesday to hail the formal introduction of Senate Bill 13-033, which would make undocumented students eligible for resident college tuition rates.

“Colorado ASSET would be the best graduation gift,” said Cesiah Trejo, a Westminster High School senior whose parents brought her to the United States when she was six.

Her confidence was shared by the lengthy list of speakers who praised the bill and showed their belief that this is the year the bill will pass.

“It’s a long time coming,” said Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo and one of the prime sponsors of Senate Bill 13-033, which was formally introduced on Tuesday morning.

“I’m a believer in the lucky number seven,” she adding, referring to the fact that six prior versions of the bill have died in the legislature. With Democrats in control of both houses this session, backers are confident the bill will pass. “The air is full of optimism,” Giron said.

“Let’s make this the last year we have to have this discussion,” said Dorian DeLong, a teacher in the Adams 12-Five Star district.

Some previous versions of the idea proposed an undocumented tuition rate somewhere between in-state and non-resident costs, but this year’s bill would make those students eligible for the in-state rate.

Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and another prime sponsor of the bill, said there are “a lot of conversations” taking place with Republican legislators about the bill, and “I’m optimistic we’re going to see Republican support.”

As introduced, the bill has 31 prime and cosponsors from both houses – all Democrats.

In past sessions Republican opponents have argued that such benefits for undocumented students are illegal, that immigration law needs to be fixed at the federal level and that lower tuition gives students false hope because they won’t be able to legally work after graduation from college.

“This is the year that we stand up for the children who represent our future,” said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, adding that it’s “unwise and unjust” to penalize students whose parents brought them to the U.S. as young children. Hancock noted that the bill was introduced on the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Several speakers made the argument that getting more undocumented students into college makes good use of the investment in the K-12 education of those students and will provide more skilled graduates for Colorado’s workforce.

The 2013 bill retains some requirements of the 2012 version. To be eligible students will have to:

  • Have attended a Colorado high school for three years prior to graduation or finishing a GED.
  • Be admitted to a state college or university.
  • Provide an affidavit stating they have applied for lawful residency in the U.S. or will apply as soon as they are able.

Such students would not be eligible for state financial aid, but Johnston said they would be eligible for institutional and private aid.

ASSET has been widely supported by Hispanic groups, many business organizations, civic groups and most of the state’s higher education leaders.

It’s difficult to predict how many students might take advantage of lower tuition if the bill passes. A legislature staff analysis of the 2012 bill made the assumption that “up to 500 students will take advantage of the new classification in the first year.” The 2012 bill, however, proposed higher tuition rates for undocumented students than does SB 13-033.

Metro State University President Steve Jordan, who spoke at Tuesday’s rally, said Metro enrolled 237 undocumented students last fall and will enroll 258 such students this spring.

After defeat of last year’s ASSET bill, the Metro trustees went ahead and created their own system of lower tuition for undocumented students.

The bill has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee for its first hearing, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.