“These brothers and sisters are human beings worthy of treatment in keeping with their inherent human dignity,” the directors of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Denver, of Central Colorado, and of the Diocese of Pueblo, wrote Feb. 26.
“Obtaining a college degree will not only empower these aspiring students, but will also help to form and improve the lives of countless future generations.”
Senate Bill 33, known as “ASSET,” would allow undocumented students at Colorado's institutions of higher education who either graduated from a Colorado high school after three years of attendance or who received a General Equivalency Diploma in Colorado to pay the in-state tuition rate.
The bill passed the Colorado Senate Feb. 25. It was voted for by three Republicans, the first time such a bill has had bi-partisan support in the state. Democrats currently control both chambers of the Colorado legislature. The bill is now passing through House committees, and will become law when signed by Democratic governor John Hickenlooper.
“There’s some pretty great kids out there who can benefit from the passage of a bill like this,” said Greg Brophy, one of the Republican state senators who voted in favor of the bill.
Catholic Charities noted that there is a tie between wealth and education and that the bill is an opportunity to help break the “crippling bonds” of “cycles of poverty.”
Not only would the bill help those individuals who avail themselves of in-state tuition, they would in turn be “encouraged to become more productive, well-educated professionals” who “provide their families and our state with lasting benefits for years to come,” Catholic Charities said.
While acknowledging that the undocumented students entered the U.S. illegally, Catholic Charities noted that this was not their act, but generally an act of their parents done while they were “at a very young age.”
Moreover, Catholic Charities said, culturally, the students are “strongly American,” having “little to no attachment” to their native countries. They are already provided with a public school education by the state.
“They long to contribute in meaningful ways – including working and paying taxes – to the economic prosperity of the only nation they have really known.”
Angela Giron, a co-sponsor of the bill, said that “We are now going to be able to reward young people who have played by the rules. They are now going to be able to give back.”
Kevin Lundberg, one of the legislators who voted against the bill in the Senate, denied that his opposition was borne of a “xenophobic, irrational fear” and suggested that the bill is a “step of amnesty.”
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila of the Denver archdiocese responded to such suggestions by saying that “the beneficiaries of ASSET are young people, most of whom did not choose to come to Colorado.”
“I commend the bill’s sponsors...for promoting a bill that respects the dignity of young, hard-working Coloradans, who, through no fault of their own, live in Colorado illegally,” he wrote in a Jan. 30 column in the Denver Catholic Register.
“ASSET ensures that Coloradans are equipped to contribute meaningfully to their families, to their communities, and to the civic life of our state,” he concluded.
Colorado's three Catholic Charities agencies have stated their support for a bill which would allow some undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at the state's universities.
Catholic Charities, Immigration