Coloradans rally for immigrant tuition bill

During a rally Wednesday, Democratic sponsors of a bill allowing undocumented high-school students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities framed their comments around economic prosperity in hopes of garnering Republican support. While U.S. Democratic Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, showed up to voice her support, State Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, said such Republican support was unlikely.

“In this building we talk all the time about what it is going to take for Colorado to be the best state in the nation to do business,” Johnston said. “Today I want to talk about, it is hard for me to say it, but a couple of lessons from Texas.”

Johnston noted that Texas passed similar legislation in a Republican controlled legislative environment based heavily on the legislation’s economic worth.

“Do we want to make sure that we keep Colorado competitive and help us become the state that we hope this to be, or do we want to tie our hands and restrain our rise and continue to create a permanent underclass of undereducated Coloradans?” Johnston asked. “There is a rare moment when we have the chance to show both Colorado’s greatness and goodness at the same time. The Colorado Asset bill offers us this rare opportunity.”

During the rally held by sponsors and members of a coalition of supporters for the Colorado Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow (ASSET) bill, sponsors Sen. Mike Johnston, Sen. Angela Giron, Rep. Joe Miklosi and Rep. Angela Williams argued that the bill would cost taxpayers nothing but would increase revenue for schools and the state.

While Miklosi admitted that undocumented students would likely benefit from state spending on fixed costs allotted to colleges in lump sum funding to subsidize some higher cost programs in state colleges and universities as well as classrooms and teacher costs, he said those costs were outweighed by benefits.

“I do view it as fixed costs versus marginal costs. I love the airplane analogy. If an airplane going from here to L.A. is 30 percent full, it is still going to go,” Miklosi told the Colorado Independent, “There may be some cost in terms of hiring more teachers, but the benefit that they are going to add to the community… that is huge.”

Miklosi pointed to a study conducted by the RAND corporation that showed a 30-year-old immigrant who graduates college provides $9,000 net annual benefit to the state through economic contributions, tax revenues and decreased use of public services.

Giron said that if 500-900 students were taking advantage of the opportunity, than higher education would receive between $1.7 million and $4.5 million in additional tuition payments.

“Everyone is familiar with the human rights issues of in-state tuition,” DeGette said. “As we embark on a sustainable economic recovery we have got to invest in our high school kids.” DeGette said immigrants who attain a college degree are much more likely to break the cycle of poverty and provide economic returns to Colorado.

Video of Rep. DeGette:

Harvey came down from his office to speak with reporters about the bill.

“My argument is that if you reward illegal behavior, you are only going to beget more illegal behavior. So if you are going to continue to incentivize people to break our country’s laws and come here illegally by rewarding them with benefits, you are only going to continue to encourage people to cross our borders illegally,” Harvey said.

Asked if he thought House Republicans would vote for the bill, Harvey said he doubted it but that “stranger things have happened.”

“I think it will be pretty hard pressed to find people that are here honestly to promote the interests of the taxpayers, when we have a $1 billion dollar shortfall and an 8.8 percent unemployment rate, to think that we should set up a new government program that incentivizes more illegal behavior in our country.”

Johnston said concerns like Harvey’s are the reason the coalition behind the bill is framing it in terms of its economic benefits to the state.

Eleven other states, including Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, New Mexico and Oklahoma have passed similar legislation.

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