Latino GOP group calls foul on Kopp opposition to immigrant in-state tuition bill

Miranda Aragon (left) and Is Chaker cheer on speakers at rally on CU campus to support ASSET. (Volckhausen)

Senator Minority Leader Mike Kopp is leading opposition to the so-called Asset legislation that would grant in-state university tuition to students who have attended at least three years of high school in Colorado but who are neither U.S. citizens nor legal residents of the country. The Littleton Republican wrote an op-ed for the Pueblo Chieftan last week making a case that drew fire from conservative Latino group Somos Republicans. In a release Friday, the group said Kopp was demonizing Colorado youth with preposterous arguments based on shoddy research.

“Senator Mike Kopp is demonizing immigrants … and he is setting Colorado up for some very expensive lawsuits,” wrote Colorado Director Steve Rodriguez. “Senator Kopp is not being fiscally responsible because he has not done his due diligence with regard to other states which have failed with the ideas he is currently proposing against immigrant tuition bills.”

Senate Bill 126 (pdf) was introduced this session by Pueblo Democrat Angela Giron and education specialist Denver Democrat Mike Johnston. The bill would offer in-state tuition rates at Colorado universities and colleges to undocumented students provided they completed their last three years of high school in Colorado and were accepted at a state institute of higher education within a year of graduation. The students would not be eligible for any state-based financial aid. Their eligibility for in-state tuition is based on their high school attendance not on residency and their in-state tuition eligibility in no way grants them legal residency for immigration or citizenship purposes. The students must also submit affidavits promising to apply for citizenship as soon as they are eligible.

Current estimates suggest roughly a couple thousand undocumented Colorado high schoolers graduate each year. Analysts have suggested roughly 400 annually would take advantage of the in-state tuition program. Many of those students now attend college in other states where in-state tuition is available to them, like New Mexico, or they don’t go to college. Supporters of Giron’s bill say Colorado is punishing some of its best and brightest due to no fault committed by the students– children raised here who know no other country as home, who have shined academically and who are being effectively exiled from the professional futures they have worked for and deserve to secure.

Kopp argued in his op-ed that in-state tuition is subsidized tuition and that the state would be losing money by granting more students those low rates. He said the undocumented students would be taking in-state slots at universities from other qualified students. He also said that the bill would be raising undocumented student expectations for citizenship unfairly, that it would violate federal and state laws and that it would attract more illegal immigrants to Colorado.

“There are more than nine states in our Union that support this type of law,” wrote Rodriguez, ” two of which are California and Nebraksa, where its constitutionality was challenged, however, the law was ultimately upheld.”

He points to the recent Martinez v. Regents of the University of California decision, where the judge ruled that basing in-state tuition on high school attendance violated no federal laws. The ruling challenged earlier rulings where tuition rates were assumed to be based on residency instead of high school attendance.

Rodriguez said the legal precedent established by Martinez thins Kopp’s arguments. Rodriguez said it is also a fact that illegal immigrants are not streaming into the nine states that presently offer in-state tuition to undocumented students. Kopp’s concern is “preposterous,” he said.

Former conservative Colorado Springs state senator and longtime anti-illegal immigration warrior Dave Schultheis weighed in on the Asset bill and the Somos response to Kopp at his blog Saturday. He ignored the legal case made by Somos based on the Martinez case and said that the bill amounted to mere election maneuvering on the part of its Democratic sponsors.

“In an attempt to continue to increase their favorability quotient with Colorado’s Hispanic population in the hope of increasing their voting base, Colorado’s Democrats have introduced SB11-126, a bill to allow illegal residents to attend a public university. While I realize that the in-state tuition issue is very emotional for some, nevertheless adherence to the law should take precedence.”

Somos founder Dee Dee Garcia Blasé fired back from the Somos blog, lamenting Schultheis’s view on the legal precedent for the Asset law and suggesting that Schultheis, like so many Republicans, was again working to alienate Latinos by brushing off an issue taken very seriously by the Latino community.

“What is holding you back from increasing the favorability quotient with Latinos?” she asked. “You and fellow Republicans can take personal responsibility for the legislative decisions you make, too.”

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