Undocumented immigrant students in Colorado can celebrate today -- a bill that grants undocumented students in-state college tuition rates was signed into Colorado law by Gov. John Hickenlooper today.
Colorado now joins thirteen other states to allow undocumented immigrant students who graduate from state high schools to attend college at an in-state tuition rate. According to The Associated Press, some of Colorado's undocumented students had been paying more than three times higher than the rate in-state students pay.
The AP's Ivan Moreno reported that Hickenlooper signed the bill at Metropolitan State University of Denver while hundreds of students and school officials watched on. "This first step is going to be the first step to national immigration reform," Hickenlooper said.
Upon signing the bill into law, Gov. Hickenlooper tweeted this on Monday afternoon:
Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia followed suit:
Read the full text of the bill here.
The Denver Post's Lynn Bartels reported that each year there are approximately 1,500 high school graduates in Colorado without legal immigration status. And the first year this law takes effect about 500 of those will attend college for the first time generating millions in revenue for the state in the years following.
In February, the historic bill passed the Democrat-controlled Senate which was not a surprise, but what was surprising is that it got its first-ever Republican support in the Senate when three GOP senators -- Sen. Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), Sen. Larry Crowder (R-Alamosa) and Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) -- voted in favor of the bill.
"This is a country where you're supposed to be able to pursue happiness and I want the GOP to be the Grand Opportunity Party," Brophy said, who in years past has only stood in opposition of similar bills like this, according to Fox31.
"I'm of the opinion that this is a very conservative idea," Crowder said, The Denver Post reported. Crowder also said that he believed the bill would cost taxpayers, but said that it was worth it.
"We're a nation of immigrants," state Sen. Hill said in January during the committee hearing, The Colorado Springs Gazette reported. "We've studied this for a while, and we've got to address the moral issues of our age."
The signing comes ten years after lawmakers first introduced a measure like this, which in years past was opposed by both parties, and marks the seventh time Democrats have pushed for ASSET in the Legislature, or, "Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow."
It also follows a hotly debated move by Metropolitan State University of Denver which approved an unsubsidized tuition cut for undocumented immigrant students.
The college's board of trustees voted 7-1 to lower the out-of-state $7,992 per semester tuition rate to $3,358.30 per semester for undocumented, Colorado-educated students. In order to qualify, an undocumented student had to have attended an in-state high school for at least three years. In-state students currently pay $2,152 per semester.
"You are leading where the legislature has so far, not," State Sen. Pat Steadman said in support of the plan, referencing the ASSET bill that failed in the state's Legislature in 2012.
However, Attorney General John Suthers challenged the school when it approved the new tuition rate saying it was illegal and that only lawmakers can decide whether to provide that benefit to undocumented immigrants, The Associated Press reported in 2012.
Now, just a year later, Colorado lawmakers have decided to provide exactly that benefit.
This year's version of the ASSET bill (pdf) allows students to pay the same tuition rate as Colorado residents, provided that the student attends at least three years of high school education or completes their general equivalency diploma (GED) in Colorado and is accepted to an in-state college or university. Undocumented students would also have to submit an affidavit saying they have sought or will seek lawful status as soon as they are able.