Tom Tancredo's Metro State ad seeks plaintiffs for undocumented-student tuition deal lawsuit

Former Congressman and gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo has purchased an advertisement in tomorrow's edition of The Metropolitan, the student newspaper for Metro State University of Denver -- one that could cost the school plenty. Tancredo confirms that the ad (see it below) seeks plaintiffs for a proposed lawsuit against Metro over its tuition deal for undocumented students.

Some background: During the most recent legislative session, a number of lawmakers pushed a measure called Colorado ASSET. As Patricia Calhoun noted in the post linked above, the bill would have created a third category of tuition at state schools in addition to in-state and out-of-state -- one tailored for undocumented students who attended three or more years of high school in Colorado and graduated and/or obtained a GED.

When this proposal failed, Metro State decided to enact its own version. In a post headlined "Metro State's tuition plan for illegals could teach the country a lesson," Calhoun tallied the dollars and cents: A qualified, undocumented student would pay $6,716 a year in tuition on the revised scale, compared to $15,985 a year for out-of-state students and $4,304 for in-state tuition.

After Metro's board approved the measure, Tancredo, who's nationally known for favoring stricter immigration enforcement, decried the move and threatened to file a lawsuit to stop it. The Metropolitan ad, which references Tancredo's political organization, the Rocky Mountain Foundation, is the next step in that process. Here it is:

As you can see, the ad doesn't mention a potential lawsuit -- but that's the motivation for advertising.

"We are trying to get a plaintiff or plaintiffs," Tancredo confirms. "The attorneys tell me that although we can bring a case just based on the citizens of the State of Colorado and taxpayers being harmed by this, it's a much stronger case with an actual plaintiff who says, 'I pay out of state tuition, and they don't, and they should, and I'm hurt.' And that's my purpose for putting the ad in."

As for the ideal number of plaintiffs for such a suit, Tancredo says, "We'll get as many as we can that fit the characteristic of paying out-of-state tuition. It could be a parent of someone who's in school and paying out-of-state tuition for their kids, or it could be students themselves."

Continue reading for more about Tom Tancredo's potential lawsuit against Metro State. Tancredo's argument for the inequity of Metro's plan? "If you are an out-of-state student, you're paying 110 percent of the cost of education at an institution. But if you're not legally present in the country, and therefore in violation of national law, you get a special law -- and that's certainly unfair, it seems to me. And by the way, somebody's going to pick up the tab here, and those somebodies are the taxpayers of the State of Colorado. And how many spots are available in higher education? And if it's limited, does that mean someone who is here legally will not be able to go to school because someone who is here illegally already is?"

Just as important from Tancredo's perspective is what he describes as "a motivating factor for me in the entire debate about immigration: How do you explain this to a person who came here from Mexico or Guatemala or the Ukraine legally and spent a significant chunk of time and money in the process to do things the right way? How do you tell them after they get here that if you simply avoid the border patrol and sneak into the country, you will be rewarded?"

For Tancredo, the answer is simple: "It makes a mockery of the whole system. If people don't want an immigration policy -- if they don't want a person to be called an illegal immigrant and they don't think they should be prosecuted -- then get rid of the laws, get rid of the boundaries, get rid of the border patrols. Pass a law that says, 'Borders don't matter and we're all one happy family on this planet and everybody should live the way they want to.'

"You should push for that and some people may agree with you, and one of them may be the President of the United States. But let's not continue with a wink and a nod -- with Republicans standing there saying, 'We need you to do some really tough work for less than what we would otherwise pay' and Democrats being all open arms, because they're potential voters -- and because they'll vote for bigger government, since that's their tendency. I say to Republicans and Democrats, 'Pass a damn law. Make it so that we're not living in this hypocritical way.'"

Not that Tancredo expects either side to do so. Indeed, the lack of immigration-related conversation during the current presidential race makes perfect sense to him "because the discussion of it really doesn't help either group. The Republicans fear the reaction by Hispanic Americans -- fear 'they won't vote for me if I'm tough on immigration.' And the Democrats, on the other hand, don't want to look like they want open borders and will completely ignore immigration laws."

Another factor: Immigration tends to rank down the list of issues cited as most important by potential voters -- but only due to the superficial way in which most people think about it, he believes. "If you portray it correctly, you look at it in terms of the issues everyone says are most important, which are jobs and the economy. We bring in a hundred-and-some-thousand people a month legally, all of them looking for jobs, and we have about the same amount sneaking into the country every month, and they're all looking for jobs, too. I never understand why Republicans fail to point that out -- except that you get back to the idea of, 'Don't touch that, because you'll get creamed by the Hispanics,' even though that's not necessarily true.

"Hispanics vote on the same kind of issues as anyone else, and when I ran for governor, as quixotic as it was, I saw a Rasmussen poll during the campaign that said I had 41 percent Hispanic support and the mayor [John Hickenlooper, who bested Tancredo] had 40 percent. That shows Hispanics don't vote in lockstep, as more often black Americans do. So you've got to do what you think is right, and if you don't get elected because of it, c'est la vie."

That's what happened to Tancredo -- but his loss freed him up to take on missions like his current one involving Metro State. He'd hoped to file a lawsuit against the school earlier this month, but the lawyers persuaded him to delay things "until we come up with the right set of plaintiffs."

Including, quite possibly, readers of The Metropolitan.

More from our Immigration archive: "Immigration: Supreme Court's Arizona-law ruling meaningless, says Tom Tancredo."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts