T he Colorado State Legislature is considering a bill named ASSET (Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow). This bill will allow undocumented students who have completed three years at a Colorado high school to pay college tuition of about $10,000/year vs. the almost $30,000/year they now pay for out-of-state tuition and $8,000/year in-state students pay. I don’t need an economist to tell me that, for many of these kids, ASSET will be the difference between their chance for a college education and becoming a more productive Colorado citizen vs. relegation to a life of low opportunity at about half-pay. This bill makes sense and deserves our support for moral, economic, and political reasons.
The moral basis for ASSET is ingrained in American culture. Immigration is a traditional American source of strength. Without two centuries of sustained immigration, America would be a much poorer place both economically and culturally.
What’s different today is that many of our immigrants are here illegally and I sympathize with the argument that immigrants should respect our laws. However, as with many things in life, when we are talking about raising children and preparing them for adulthood, the rules are different. Kids that meet the requirements defined in ASSET — at least three years of Colorado High School — are not lawbreakers, just kids that did what their parents told them to do. By and large, they grew up in Colorado like any other Colorado kid. Any society with an ounce of compassion wants to give the children who live among us a chance for a good life, and there is no better way than this.
But, it’s not just for these young people — let’s do it for Colorado’s economy. Colorado ranks 3rd in the nation in college graduates per capita, but only 24th in sending its own students on to college. This means that Colorado is a net importer of people with college degrees. Colorado is nurturing a technology-based economy that needs people with technical skills. In my own experience running a technology business, it was often difficult to find locally-grown talent and occasionally we had to hire foreign nationals. It is in Colorado’s best interests to grow our own workforce and not rely on other states and nations to do it for us. If these young immigrants want a college education, let’s make it possible for them so they can better help us all.
Of course, politics often gets in the way of good ideas, and this bill is no exception. Thanks to the demagoguery of Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republicans have spent the past few years behaving in ways that were borderline xenophobic. However, state and national Republican leaders seem to be waking up to the fact that the electorate is becoming increasingly Hispanic and that the Republicans’ relentless demonization of undocumented immigrants was starting to get under the skin of this growing voting block. So, pockets of immigration tolerance are breaking out among Republicans around this issue. In Colorado, the ASSET bill passed the State Senate with no debate against it from Republicans, and some Republican House legislators may support the bill which would allow it to become law. Maybe this reflects a new dawn for Colorado Republicans on immigration issues. Maybe.
The real shocker, though, was that the best argument came from none other than the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry. When addressing questions about Texas’s in-state tuition laws during the Republican Presidential debates, Perry said, “The bottom line is, it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way… No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. … if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we’re going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.”
Perry knew that defending this law would hurt him politically, but he stood his ground. Painful as it may be for some Coloradans to hear such simple wisdom delivered with a Texas twang, these words came from an avowed conservative who also happens to govern a state with almost 2,000 miles of border with Mexico. If he thinks it’s a good idea to pass this kind of law, the rest of America should listen carefully.
America will always be debating immigration issues — it’s just part of the American fabric. Tough issues abound, but ASSET is one idea where everyone wins.