DENVER –Lawmakers, lobbyists, activists, educators and a few dozen undocumented Colorado students filled the Capitol’s west foyer Tuesday morning to make the case for the “ASSET” bill, which will allow undocumented students to receive in-state college tuition.
“Colorado ASSET would be the best graduation gift that anyone could give me,” said Cesiah Guadarrama, a senior at Westminster High School whose parents brought her to the United States when she was six.
It was the kind of press conference you’d expect at the outset of a tough legislative fight, the kind of public show of support aimed at pressuring resistant lawmakers to get on board.
But Tuesday’s gathering wasn’t that at all.
It was an early celebration of sorts, with supporters of the bill, introduced Tuesday as Senate Bill 33, knowing that the legislation is finally going to become law by session’s end.
“This is the seventh year that this bill has come before the General Assembly,” said Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “I’m certainly a believer in the lucky number seven.”
It won’t be luck, however, that gets this bill through the legislature — it’ll be the Democratic majorities in both the state House and Senate.
For the last two years, the House Republican majority successfully blocked legislation aimed at making college more affordable for undocumented students who qualify, despite concessions made by the bill’s Democratic sponsors in an effort to win bipartisan support.
This year, with Democrats back in control and ASSET certain to pass, the concessions made in past years to appeal to Republicans are gone.
Whereas last year’s legislation would have created a third category of tuition for undocumented immigrants in between in-state and out-of-state levels, this year’s bill will enable qualifying undocumented students to receive in-state tuition.
“If you listened to Speaker [Mark] Ferrandino’s opening day speech, he mentioned the three C’s: consulation, cooperation and consensus. And all of a sudden this bill is saying take it or leave it,” said Rep. Brian Delgrosso, R-Loveland.
“On top of that, we’re now talking about tax dollars being used for this. So that brings up another fairness issue, with us helping undocumented kids at the same level as legal citizens and kids who want to go to college here who live out of state and are now at a disadvantage.”
Delgrosso admitted, however, that Republicans won’t be able to stop ASSET from getting to the governor’s desk; and after an election cycle that saw the GOP lose its House majority and Latino voters statewide by a three-to-one margin, some Republicans may even make a decision to support the legislation.
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, the former principal and co-sponsor of the ASSET bill for a third straight year, tells FOX31 Denver that some Republicans will support the legislation.
But in his speech Tuesday morning in the west foyer, Johnston spoke about the years of disappointment felt by undocumented kids whose hopes and dreams have been reliant on lawmakers, promising that this year will finally be different, with or without any Republican votes.
“The two last valedictorians of a high school in my district are right now flipping burgers at a fast food joint — and when you try to tell a fifth-grader or a sixth-grader or a seventh-grader why they should come in every day and work as hard as they can for the chance that they will get a diploma that will make it possible for them to be flipping burgers, that is a hard argument to make,” Johnston said.
“We are closing a chapter in American history where too many times elected officials have barred the door to higher ed[ucation]. For too many times, we’ve been the ones to stand there and turn kids away who wanted nothing more than through their own hard work and their own commitment to build a better life for themselves.
“And now is the time for us to get out of the way.”
Johnston and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who also spoke at the press conference, made a point of noting that Tuesday marks the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Dr. King said to each and every one of us, ‘My only hope and dream for our young people is that you are able to exercise your inalienable right to dream, to lead and succeed’,” said Hancock.
“Today, with Senate Bill 33, we say happy birthday, Dr. King, and we celebrate your goal of providing the opportunity to dream and succeed.”
For Guadarrama, this bill’s ultimate passage later this week means that she’s already applying to Metro State University of Denver, which began offering reduced tuition to undocumented students last fall, and to Regis University and the University of Colorado at Denver.
“I think education is really important,” Guadarrama told FOX31 Denver. “It’s the key to all of our issues. And it’s worth fighting for.”
Next fall, she’ll likely become the first person in her family to attend college.
“It would mean the world to my parents,” she said. “My parents brought me to here to seek a better and brighter future for me.”