A controversial bill that would allow immigrant kids who have spent three years in Colorado to pay resident tuition rates at the state's colleges and universities cleared a Senate committee Thursday.
SB 170 would not permit students who entered the United States in violation of federal immigration laws to receive Colorado Opportunity Fund grants, as other students who pay in-state tuition rates can, and specifies that those students would not be eligible for state-awarded financial aid.
College Opportunity Fund grants provide $2,000 vouchers that can be used to pay in-state tuition.
Nevertheless, Republicans on the Senate Education Committee attacked the measure as one that rewards illegal behavior and deludes immigrant kids into believing they have a future in the United States.
"Your bill fosters false hope," Sen. Keith King, R-Colorado Springs, told sponsoring Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, during the five-hour hearing. "It doesn’t matter if they have a four-year degree or not. They are going to be deported."
Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, said the bill amounts to "creeping amnesty."
But Democrats argued that a college education is valuable no matter where an immigrant child ends up living and that offering educational opportunities will reduce crime, substance abuse and other socially destructive behaviors.
"I think you build great societies by offering hope," Romer said. "When you offer people hopelessness, they do hopeless things."
Senate president Peter Groff, D-Denver, also argued that the bill ensures that the state is not punishing children for the crimes of their parents.
He said the bill involves a "moral issue."
Romer modified his original proposal to require beneficiaries of the bill to file an affidavit stating they would apply for U.S. citizenship before the committee approved SB 170 on a 5-3 party-line vote.
Despite opposition from GOP legislators, Romer's proposal has support from several prominent Republican businessmen. Colorado Rockies co-owner Dick Monfort testified in support of the bill, as did prominent energy industry executive Alex Cranberg.
The measure is also supported by the Colorado Education Association and Colorado Association of School Executives.
Approval of SB 170 came one day before the House Appropriations Committee approved another bill that would grant in-state tuition eligibility to armed forces veterans.
Romer's bill now heads to the Senate floor, where a partisan fight is expected.
Ten other states have enacted similar legislation.