DENVER - Immigrant rights advocates, including about 10 from Durango, converged Monday on the state Capitol to press for in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.
Sen. Chris Romer, D-Denver, is sponsoring a bill to do just that. His Senate Bill 170 is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee on Friday. Romer briefly backed off on the bill last week, telling The Denver Post that he was waiting to see what Congress does with the issue.
But Monday, he was pushing hard for his bill.
"This is a bill that will decrease taxes, cut the teen-pregnancy rate, reduce crime and give hope to kids who through no fault of their own are in an untenable situation," Romer said.
The bill does not change tax rates, but Romer argues that college graduates become productive taxpayers and make society as a whole better.
Opponents say the bill rewards illegal behavior and isn't fair to out-of-state American citizens, who would have to pay higher tuition than illegal immigrants in Colorado.
Romer's bill would apply only to children who have graduated from a Colorado high school and been in the state for three years or more. Romer said he has firm commitments for the 18 votes he will need to get the bill out of the Senate. Freshman Rep. Joe Miklosi, D-Denver, will sponsor the bill in the House.
Eddie Soto of Los Compañeros coordinated the Durango group at Monday's rally. The group included immigration lawyer Shea Fitzekam.
"I see kids graduating from Durango High School every year, graduating near the top of their class, and without in-state tuition, they can't afford to pay," Fitzekam said.
Rufino Ahuatzi of Durango, originally from Mexico, also joined the group.
To study at school is a right, no matter what country or place someone comes from, Ahuatzi said in Spanish.
Crystal Harris works with the Durango Educational Alliance for Multicultural Achievement. Every year, she sees a handful of immigrant kids who could go to college but can't afford the out-of-state tuition. And she has 60 promising kids in her elementary school group.
"They are extra smart. They would be going to college. They want to learn," Harris said.