DENVER — Inside Metro State University’s Student Success building on the Auraria Campus, a few hundred undocumented students, business leaders, politicians and activists crowded together, craning their necks and hoisting their smart phone cameras for a glimpse of a historic day 13 years in the making.
At 1:41 p.m., Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper picked up the first of nine pens and methodically signed his name to Senate Bill 11, the “ASSET bill”, which will allow around a thousand undocumented Colorado students to receive in-state tuition at the state’s colleges and universities this fall.
Cheers erupted as the bill became law. Val Vigil, the former state lawmaker who first sponsored in-state tuition legislation at the Capitol 13 years ago, thrust a fist into the air before locking hands with Hickenlooper in an emotional high five.
“It’s perseverance,” Vigil told FOX31 Denver afterward. “You know when you truly believe in an issue, you don’t give it up.”
Before the bill was signed, sponsors and supporters lauded the perseverance of the hundreds of Colorado students who hold high school diplomas but lack the nine-digit Social Security number they’ve needed to be able to afford college.
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, a former teacher and principal, described the despair of one of his former students who graduated high school only to watch state lawmakers, for the last three years, defeat legislation aimed at making college more affordable for undocumented students.
“That student right now is working in a fast food restaurant, waiting for the chance to fulfill his dreams of one day becoming an engineer,” Johnston said. “Well, today, we’re here to tell you that the doors are open and the dream is alive.”
Marco Dorado, now a student at CU Boulder, told a similar story to the assembled crowd.
“In 2009, I was a junior in high school and watched as this bill was defeated in the Colorado Senate,” Dorado said. “Access to higher education should not be contingent on one’s good fortune, but on one’s ability to succeed.
“No longer will Colorado students face the hopelessness of feeling that they can’t afford to further their dreams.”
Students who have long dreamed of such an opportunity know that now it’s up to them — an opportunity, Hickenlooper noted, that will benefit the state as well.
“It’s a fair and equitable way for undocumented students to get their fair share, their fair opportunity at higher education,” the governor said. “This is our opportunity to make sure everyone is prepared for the jobs of tomorrow.”
Five Republicans voted for the ASSET bill this year; two state senators and three representatives.
Metro State University of Denver voted to lower tuition for undocumented students last summer after the bill’s failure in the GOP-controlled House.
MSUD President Steve Jordan and Trustee Bill Hanzlik both attended Monday’s bill signing and celebrated the historic moment.
“It sends a clear signal that the great American dream of the U.S. as a melting pot nation is still alive and well in Colorado today,” Jordan said.