DENVER - All five Democratic senators on the Senate Education Committee, along with one Republican, Sen. John Owens of Colorado Springs, passed legislation Thursday to give in-state tuition to illegal immigrants who graduate from Colorado high schools.
The bill has some specific requirements: Students must graduate from a Colorado high school, they must have resided in Colorado for at least three consecutive years and they must sign an affidavit stating they are seeking citizenship.
A Democratic Senate committee voted 6-3 Thursday to approve the bill allowing Colorado residents who are illegal immigrants to receive in-state tuition.
One state senator urged his colleagues to vote for the bill, asking them not to put up road blocks to some of "our best and brightest."
The tuition bill is likely to become law because Democrats took control of both chambers of the legislature.
Latinos, last year, made up an estimated 14 percent of Colorado's voters -- the highest-ever turnout for the group.
One Republican on the Education Committee voted for the tuition proposal. Freshman Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs said it is a "moral duty" to change tuition policies.
Legislative analysts say the measure could affect some 500 students next school year.
Currently, illegal immigrants pay an out-of-state rate that's more than three times higher than the resident rate.
Many Republicans say the legislation raises an issue of fairness because illegal immigrants would be receiving a benefit that other students don't receive. But Democrats say the state has invested in the immigrants' education in state public schools and they should have the chance to attend college at an affordable rate.
It is estimated to cost the state up to $18,000 for the average student to receive a K-12 education in Colorado.
"They know no other country," said bill sponsor, Sen. Angela Giron, (D) Pueblo. "Most of these students have applied for, and received deferred action which will make them eligible to work in this country. It’s not very smart on any investors part to say, ‘Oh, we’re not going to get our investment back.’”
Republicans also argued Thursday this was a federal immigration reform issue, not a state issue.
Similar legislation has passed in some of Colorado's neighboring states including Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and Utah.