DENVER - Dozens of jubilant students cheered Democratic lawmakers at the Colorado Capitol on Tuesday for a bill lowering tuition costs for undocumented immigrants graduating from state high schools - an often-proposed measure likely to pass this year.
"The air is full of optimism, and so it's an honor to be up here," Pueblo Democratic Sen. Angela Giron, one of the bill's sponsors, said during a news conference to unveil the proposal.
Behind her stood several dozen students who have been lobbying lawmakers for years. This is the seventh time lawmakers have attempted to lower tuition costs for undocumented immigrant students. Republicans have blocked the measure the last two years when they controlled the House, but previous attempts also failed when Democrats controlled both chambers of the Legislature.
This time, however, Democrats are more unified in their support and again control the House and the Senate.
"We come here today to close a chapter in American history, and to open a new one," said Denver Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston, another bill sponsor.
The proposal introduced Tuesday goes further than recent attempts to lower tuition for undocumented immigrant students because it would make the students eligible for in-state tuition. Last year, Democrats tried to get support from Republicans who controlled the House by proposing tuition that was higher than in-state costs, but lower than out-of-state rates.
"We are tired of waiting," said Ana Calderon, 20."These young people are tired of waiting. We have to go on with our lives, and if we don't go to school now, when?"
Republicans who oppose the measure say it's unfair to legal residents who still have to pay the higher out-of-state rate. Rep. Brian DelGrosso, a Republican from Loveland, criticized Democrats for proposing a broader measure than what they pitched when they were trying to get GOP support.
"It does seem more like a 'take it or leave it' type of bill this year," he said. DelGrosso said the bill raises an issue of fairness.
"You got a lot of students who come here to Colorado to go to college, and they're paying the high, out-of-state tuition fee. And they're like, 'Why should I not get the same benefit as some of these other students?'" DelGrosso said.
He also said he disagrees with the notion that Republican opposition to the bill hurts the party's courtship of Latino voters, who have largely favored Colorado Democrats. He said Latino families who have gone through the process for legal residency feel like it undermines their efforts.
"I don't think that the entire Latino community is a hundred percent behind this. It's unfair to say that it's us against the Latino community because we have definitely heard from several folks in the Latino community that quite frankly don't want us to go this route," he said.
The immigrant students receiving in-state tuition would have to pursue legal residency to qualify for the lower rate.