Legislative records indicate this will be the eighth time in the last decade that lawmakers address the issue. The difference in the 2011 legislation is that vouchers from the state that currently go to in-state tuition to help defray costs would not go toward undocumented students. Supporters say the lack of a direct cost to the state will hopefully change its fate in this legislative session.
"It's always been the right thing to do, but now it's the economically smart thing to do," Giron said. "We've invested in these kids [through high school] and now we want to get that investment back. We have to have a highly educated workforce."
Johnston says the issue is a civil rights one and that for too long we have taken out the sins of the father, who came to this country illegally, on his sons and daughters.
"Every kid we clap for on the stage in May [at high school graduation] ought to have the same chance to go to college," Johnston said. "You have kids who have been in this country since they were 1, 2, 3 years old and they're in third grade, eighth grade and 10th grade being told they don't have a chance to go to college like the rest of the kids in this state. That has a deadening moral impact on the hearts and minds of kids."
Critics say the state will incur unnecessary legal costs fighting a law they believe is unconstitutional. That's because they assert the Constitution prevents treating students living in Colorado illegally differently from students living in other states legally.
"Under the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution, you can't prefer somebody who's here illegally to the rest of the citizens of the United States, from Kansas, from Nebraska, from New York, that are obviously here legally," Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp (R-Littleton) said. "This gives false hope to these students. Where are they going to get jobs? There's a movement nationally to penalize employers who hire people who are here illegally. It's really a false hope act more than anything else."
Colorado's neighboring states like Utah, Kansas and Nebraska have passed similar legislation. The economic difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition can be dramatic with the latter, in some cases, paying five times as much as the former.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)