ASSET youths thank lawmakers

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Undocumented youths held events statewide on July 18 to send Colorado lawmakers one message: Thank you.

Immigrant students held celebrations with state legislators to say thanks for their roles in the passage of a bill earlier this year that allows undocumented students in Colorado the ability to attend state colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates.

Senate Bill 33 was signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper in April. The so-called ASSET bill — Advancing Students for a Stronger Economy Tomorrow — allows all students to pay in-state tuition rates, so long as they are high school graduates who have attended a Colorado school for at least three years.

The bill finally passed the Legislature after several unsuccessful attempts over a 10-year period.

Celebratory events were held in Aurora, Colorado Springs, Longmont, and at the Westminster campus of Front Range Community College, where state Rep. Cherilyn Peniston told attendees that getting the bill through the General Assembly this year was a top priority.

“You don’t go down to the legislature to represent laws, you go to represent people,” Peniston said.

“And that’s what this bill meant for me.”

Hannah Brown, a coordinator of outreach and enrollment at Front Range, said that prior to ASSET becoming a reality, she would have “difficult conversations” with immigrant students about the cost of attending college.

But on the day that Hickenlooper signed the bill into law, Front Range campuses saw “several students coming in, asking about how to enroll,” Brown said.

“It’s really been a much more positive conversation with those students because we can offer them much more opportunities than we have in the past,” Brown said.

The law aims to help students like Sonia Gutierrez, who lives in Westminster. Gutierrez came to the U.S. from Mexico when she was two years old. She didn’t realize, until she was 16, that she was undocumented.

“How do you explain that to a child?” Gutierrez said, who recalled her parents giving her the news that she was not a U.S. citizen. “‘You’re undocumented. You don’t understand it now, but it’s gonna impact you in the future.”

Gutierrez, 22, ended up going to Denver’s Metro State University, where she took advantage of their reduced tuition program for undocumented students — which wasn’t available until she had already attended school there for two years.

Gutierrez graduated in May, but said that the cost of attending school would have been a lot easier to handle had ASSET been around a few years ago.

“I wasn’t going to let not having a Social Security number stop me,” she said. “But I couldn’t have paid out-of-state tuition for four years.”

The ASSET bill received unanimous support from Democrats in the Legislature, as well as from six Republicans.

“This is something that we did that will benefit people statewide,” said Rep. Crisanta Duran, D-Denver, a House sponsor of the bill.