DENVER – Illegal immigrants who grow up in the state should be eligible for in-state tuition, not a higher, compromise rate, Colorado Democrats told The Associated Press on Monday.
The tuition proposal could be introduced in the Legislature as soon as today, when lawmakers planned a news conference to discuss it.
The strategy marks a shift for Democrats who last year sought a compromise third tuition level between in-state and out-of-state rates.
Democrats had hoped the compromise rate would attract GOP support in the divided Legislature, but Republicans blocked the bill last year.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he supports discounted tuition for illegal immigrants.
This year, with the Legislature firmly in their control, Democrats are dropping the compromise rate in favor of regular in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who grew up in Colorado.
“We don’t see any reason to set up a new tuition framework,” said Sen. Angela Giron, a Pueblo Democrat who sponsored last year’s compromise and planned to announce this year’s version.
“They’re aspiring citizens. They’re new Americans. Why should we treat a salutatorian different from a valedictorian?” Giron said about illegal immigrants who graduate from Colorado high schools.
The illegal-immigrant students receiving in-state tuition would have to pursue citizenship if they’re not already, sponsors said. That would include Coloradans who are staying in this country as a result of President Barack Obama’s directive last year that immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children be exempted from deportation and granted work permits if they apply.
Republicans gave the latest tuition proposal a frosty reception Monday. Many were still skeptical about last year’s tuition compromise.
“It’s rather hypocritical given their argument last year that they did not want in-state tuition,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, who opposed last year’s tuition measure. “So now, taxpayers are going to have to subsidize it? Well, at least they’re being honest about encouraging illegal behavior.”
Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston, another sponsor of the immigrant tuition measure, said this year’s version still sets up a special class of residents who are also illegal immigrants. He said illegal immigrants wouldn’t be eligible for state financial aid.
“There is still a distinction,” Johnston said.
This year’s proposal could affect several hundred students, Giron said.
House Republican Leader Mark Waller, of Colorado Springs, said before the session began that there’s room for compromise, but he added that “to take it too far to the left is not going to get Republican support.”
There’s a broader issue that needs to be addressed, he said.
“Let’s define a clear path of citizenship for these kids,” Waller said. “Because giving education without citizenship does nothing to provide opportunity for them.”