"We believe that what we have done is on good legal grounds," said Dr. Stephen Jordan, president of Metropolitan State College of Denver.
Jordan addressed the Joint Budget Committee made up of state senators and representatives. Republican chairwoman Cheri Gerou says she wanted answers as to how Metro State leaders decided to create a special tuition category for illegal immigrant students.
Currently, undocumented students pay an out-of-state tuition rate at Metro State of about $16,000 per year. But, the Metro State Board of Trustees approved the creation of a new category called Colorado High School/GED Non-Resident tuition rate.
Any student who attended a Colorado High School for at least three years and graduated will be eligible for a tuition rate of about $7,200 per year, regardless of immigration status. In-state tuition is about $4,300 per year.
However, Attorney General John Suthers examined the program and decided that giving illegal immigrants any sort of tuition break is a "public benefit" which is a violation of the law.
"Federal law requires an affirmative choice by the state legislature," Deputy Attorney General David Blake said.
Blake says the law is clear on whether illegal immigrants can receive any benefits from the government.
"Granting an undocumented alien a $9,000 benefit has to be public benefit," Blake said.
Sarahi Hernandez is an undocumented student currently attending Metro State. Hernandez attended the hearing hoping that Metro State's program will stand.
"They're valid points," Hernandez said. "It's understandable, but at the same time, it's pretty much our future."
She says it is very difficult for her to afford the out-of-state tuition rate. Hernandez says for other undocumented students, it makes attending college impossible.
That's why she hopes despite the attorney general's non-binding opinion, Metro State will still enact the special tuition rate.
"I still have hope," Hernandez said.
Republican State Senator from Colorado Springs, Kent Lambert, says if Metro State continues with this plan, it may create complications when proposals for state funding come up for the college.
"It's going to be very difficult as a member of our budget committee to make a budget for a category of students that doesn't exist in statute," Lambert said.
Jordan says Metro State is prepared for this fight.
"It's a long legislative process," Jordan said. "There are a hundred members of the legislature. If we make the right decision... things will take care of themselves."
The Metro State Board of Trustees will review the opinion issued by the Attorney General before making a final decision on whether the plan will begin next fall.
Hernandez says she will be watching closely.
"It's stopped for the moment," said Hernandez. "But, it's definitely not killed."
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)