A bill that would grant undocumented immigrant students in-state tuition in Colorado is set to go before a Senate Appropriations Committee next week. Senate Bill 33, aka Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow (ASSET), breezed through a hearing by a Senate Education Committee with a bipartisan vote of 6-3 on January 24, and as it moves toward the Senate floor, expectations, and hopes, are high.
A similar bill failed to pass last year.
Cesiah Guadarrama is a supporter of ASSET. An undocumented senior at Westminster High School who's in the top percentage of her class, she would not be able to attend an institution of higher learning after high school due to the exorbitant costs of out-of-state tuition.
"What I see is opportunities that close on me that I have no control over," she says. "I want to pursue higher education, but I don't know if I can afford it."
But with the pending passage of ASSET, Guadarrama sees hope for her future. In the past year, she has taken on an active role in the promotion of ASSET; she speaks at public events and leads a student group at Westminster High School while balancing the rigors of academic studies. The response she's gotten from people at rallies has been positive, she said.
"People, they thanked me and said they were proud of me because I'm a senior this year, and I'll be graduating with honors, and I think that I'll be working hard to reach my dreams," she notes.
Undocumented students who want to attend an institute of higher learning can apply for a DACA card. A Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival card grants work authorization to those who are eligible for up to two years, but it is renewable.
Lynea Hansen, communications director for Higher Education Access Alliance, said the DACA certification is crucial for students trying to enter a community college or university.
"When these students go to college, they don't get any financial aid; private scholarships aren't available," she said. "Most of these students are paying in cash at the bursar's office, so for them to be able to work through college is a great relief."
Hansen and other HEAA workers have spent the past nine years trying to get a bill like ASSET written and passed, and to see the bill gain widespread support, is an encouraging sign that leaves her feeling "cautiously optimistic" for the eventual passage and implementation.
Currently, thirteen other states have similar legislation in place granting undocumented students in-state tuition provided they meet certain criteria. Texas enacted legislation in 2001, and the state's success has provided a road map for Colorado's bill, Hansen says.
"One of the things we like to talk about a lot is 'if we do this, there's going to be a huge influx of undocumented coming into the state.' Texas has been able to show us that that is not true at all," she points out.
ASSET is backed by Senators Mike Johnston and Angela Giron, as well as Representatives Crisanta Duran and Angela Williams. The support of the four sponsors has been huge, Hansen says.
"All four of them have been working very hard with us to create a bill that one, can pass, two, that will benefit the students and three, benefit the state as a whole," she maintains. "They've been working to bring allies into our tent."
The bill is set to go before a Senate Appropriations Committee before heading to the Senate floor. If it passes, as expected, it will then be heard in the House of Representatives.
For Guadarrama, the support for the bill not only means access to higher education, but also a chance to follow her occupational dream.
"I want to go into the medical field and either become a radiologist or a physician's assistant," she says.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Here's a look at the legislation.
More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive circa 2012: "CU Regents support Colorado ASSET tuition plan for illegal immigrants."